Issue 16 / October - December 1996
How Can We Argue For The Existence Of The Spirit And Can We Know of It ?
M. Fethullah Gulen
QUESTIONS FOR TODAY
HOW CAN WE ARGUE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF THE SPIRIT AND CAN WE KNOW OF IT?
The spirit and its Identity
1. Although sciences are not yet ready to accept it, there are, besides the subdivisions in a world - like the worlds of planets, animals and human beings (vegetable kingdom, animal kingdom and human kingdom) and the world of jinn, many worlds in the universe one within the other or above or enveloping the other. Of these worlds, the visible, material world is that in which we live, addressing itself to our senses. From tiniest particles to galaxies, this world is the realm where God Almighty gives life, fashions, renews, changes and makes to die. Sciences concern themselves with the phenomena of this world.
Above this visible, material world is the immaterial world of Divine Laws or Commands. In order to have some knowledge of this world, we can consider, for example, how a book or a tree or a human being comes into existence. The main part of a bookâ€™s existence is itâ€™s meaning. Without meaning, it is impossible for a book to come into existence, no matter how excellent a printing machine or how many sheets we have. As a second example, what stimulates a seed to germinate under earth and grow into a tree is the essence of life and the law of germination and growth with which it is endowed. We can observe even with the naked eye the germination of the seed and the development of a tree from it. But for the essence of life and the laws of germination and growth which, although invisible or unobservable, govern the birth and growth of a new living thing, there would have been no plants in the world.
Similarly, through menstruation, the womb of a female is prepared every month for insemination. This is a process dictated by a (biological) law. Out of millions of mate sperms heading for the womb, one reaches the ovum to fertilize it. After this, menstruation stops until birth. This is another process governed by another (biological) law. The development of the embryo into a new individual through many stages is a third process governed by other (biological or embryological) laws. We conclude the existence of all those laws from almost never-changing repetition of all those processes. Likewise, by observing the (natural) phenomena around us, we also conclude the existence of many other laws like gravitation and repulsion and the freezing or vaporization of water.
Thus, like the laws we have just mentioned and many others like them the spirit too is a law issuing from the world of Divine Laws or Commands. Nevertheless, unlike the others, the human spirit is also a living, conscious law. If the spirit were to be stripped of life and consciousness, it would become a law: if on the other hand, the laws were to be given life and consciousness, they would become each a spirit.
2. While matter or anything in the material world is composed of atoms and atoms are made up of more minute particles, the spirit is a simple entity. Since it is simple, it does not disintegrate. We cannot see it as we see a material thing; we know it through its manifestations in the material world. Although we accept its existence and observe its manifestations, we cannot know its nature. Our ignorance of somethingâ€™s nature must not mean that it does not exist.
We see with our eyes. In other words, our eyes are simply instruments with which to see. The main centre of sight is in the brain. However, it is not the brain itself which sees. You do not say â€˜my brain seesâ€™, but you say â€˜I seeâ€™. It is we who see or hear or sense. But who is it that we call â€˜Iâ€™? Is it something that is composed of a brain, a heart and other organs and limbs? Why can we not move when we die although all our organs and limbs are there? How does a factory work? Does it work by itself or does some other thing such as what we call electrical energy move it to work? Any defect or something wrong with the factory which causes a disconnection between the factory and the electrical energy is enough to reduce a whole, once highly productive, valuable factory into a heap of junk. Should this relation between the factory and the electrical energy be, in one way, comparable to that between the spirit and the body?
When the connection of the body with the spirit is cut-the event which we call death-the body is reduced to something which we do not like to keep even a few hours more because it will rot and decompose.
Of course, the spirit is not an electrical power. It is a conscious, powerful thing, which is apt to learn and which thinks, senses and reasons, and continually develops, usually in parallel with the physical development of the body, mentally and spiritually, through learning, meditation, belief and worship. It is also the spirit which determines the character or nature or identity of an individual which makes one different or distinguishable from others. Although all human beings, from the first to the last, are substantially made up of the same elements, they are all different from one another in character, nature and features, down to fingerprints. Thus, what determines this difference is the spirit.
3. The spirit is a simple entity which issues from the World of Divine Commands. In order to be manifested and function in the material, visible world, it needs material means. As the body is unable to get in touch with the world of symbols or immaterial forms, the spirit can not establish any contact with this world without the mediation of the heart, the brain and other organs and limbs of the body.
The spirit functions, as we have just said, through all the nerves, cells and other elements of the body. Therefore, if something wrong happens to a system or organ of the body the relation of the spirit with that system or organ is disconnected and the spirit can no longer command it. If the failure or â€˜illnessâ€™ causing the disconnection is big enough to cut the relation of the spirit with the whole of the body, the event which we call death happens.
Although some coarse, meaningless movements are observed in hands or fingers as the result of stimulating certain areas of the brain, those movements are like some confused, meaningless sounds produced by pressing the keys of a piano at random. Or rather, those movements are some automatic responses of the body to any stimulation, coming about as the result of the automatic working of the body. Therefore, in order that the body can produce meaningful movements, it needs the spirit, which is conscious and has free will.
Although pyscho-analysists like Freud have tried to make different explanations, dreams cannot be said to consist only in jumbled activities of the subconscious self. Almost everyone has had several dreams which have brought news of the future and have come true. Also, many scientific or technological discoveries have taken place as the result of â€˜trueâ€™ dreams. So as will be discussed later, dreams point to the existence of a part of man which can see in a different way while man himself is sleeping. This part is the spirit.
Although the spirit sees with eyes, smells with noses, hears with ears and so on, there is a considerable number of examples of people who have demonstrated an ability to see with their fingers or the tips of their noses and smell with their heels.
4. The spirit manifests itself mostly on the face. Truly, oneâ€™s face is a window opened on ones inner world. Through all its features, oneâ€™s face discloses oneâ€™s character.
Psychologists assert that almost all oneâ€™s movements down to coughing reveal oneâ€™s character. However, oneâ€™s face is so clear a sign to discover oneâ€™s character, abilities and personality that it caused the birth of an art called physiognomy, which is the art of judging oneâ€™s character from the features of oneâ€™s face. It is oneâ€™s spirit which determines the features of oneâ€™s face.
As is known, the cells of the body are continuously renewed. Everyday millions of cells die and are replaced by new ones. Biologists say that the whole of the cells forming the body are renewed every six months. Despite this continuous renewal the face remains unchanging with itâ€™s main features. We recognize individuals through those unchanging features of their faces. Likewise, oneâ€™s fingerprints also remain unchanging. Neither the renewal of the cells of the fingers nor the injuries or bruises the singers suffer can cause the fingerprints to change. It is again oneâ€™s spirit, different from all other spirits, which secures the stability of ones basic distinguishing features.
5. The body undergoes an uninterrupted change during its whole lifetime. This change is toward physical growth and development until a certain period, becoming stronger and more perfect. However, this growth stops at a certain point and decay begins. Unlike these changes, first toward growth and development and then toward decay and death, a man can continuously grow in learning and he can also continuously develop or may decay spiritually and intellectually or while developing or decaying he may stop at any point and then change his direction.That means his moral, spiritual and intellectual education does not depend at all on his bodily changes. Also, the moral, spiritual and intellectual differences among human beings have nothing to do with their physical structure. Although every human being is composed of the same substantial physical or material elements, what is it that causes the moral and intellectual differences among them? What part of man receives moral and intellectual education and what part of him is trained physically? Does physical training bear any relation to learning and moral and intellectual education? Can we say that the more a man is trained physically, the more he becomes developed in learning and morality? If we cannot say so, and if physical training has nothing to do with oneâ€™s scientific, moral and intellectual level, why should we not accept the existence of the spirit and how could we attribute learning and moral and intellectual education to some bio-chemical processes in the brain?
Also, we have mentioned that man undergoes a continuous physical change, first toward growth and then toward decay, and the cells of his body are renewed every six month. But he does change, in parallel to those changes, in character and morality and thinking. Again how can we explain, other than by admitting the existence of the spirit as the centre of thinking, feeling, making choices and decisions, and learning, the differences of opinion and preference among human beings and the differences in their characters.
Furthermore, man is a being who has innumerable complex feelings. He loves or hates, rejoices or becomes grieved, feels happy or sad, hopes or becomes desperate, cherishes ambitions and imagines, and feels relieved or bored, and so on. Also, he likes or dislikes, appreciates or disregards, and he fears and becomes or he becomes timid or he becomes encouraged and feels enthusiastic, and he repents, becomes excited and longs. If we look through a dictionary, we can come across hundreds of words used to express manâ€™s feelings. Besides, he may reflect on events happening around him or on beauties in creation and develops in learning. He also makes comparisons and reasons, and then comes to believe in the Creator of all things. Then through worship and by following His Commandments, he develops morally and spiritually and becomes a perfect man. So how can we explain all these phenomena other than by admitting the conscious part of man, which is his spirit. Can we attribute them to chemical processes in the brain?
6. If we regard man as a physical entity only, made up of blood, bones, flesh and tissues, and attribute all his movements to biochemical processes in the brain, we should not recognize any set of laws to obey. For as we have said earlier, a manâ€™s body is renewed every six months. Suppose a man is being tried in a court for a murder he committed a year before. The following exchange ensues between him and the judge:
- When did you commit that crime?
- A year ago.
The judge announces the verdict:
â€˜Since the murder was committed a year ago and the cells of this man who is accused of committing it, including those of his fingers which pulled the trigger, were completely replaced with new ones, and therefore since it is impossible to punish the one who committed the murder, the jury has decided on his acquittal.
So, man is not solely a physical entity and his movements, feelings, thoughts, beliefs and decisions are not the result of biochemical processes in his brain. The main part of manâ€™s being is his spirit, which is alive and conscious, and which feels, thinks, believes, wills, decides and which commands the body. The body is the instrument of the spirit, which the spirit uses to put its decisions into action.
7. As was pointed out earlier, God acts in the material, visible world behind the veil of causes. However, besides this one, there are many other worlds or realms like the world of ideas, the world of symbols or immaterial forms, the world of the inner dimensions of things and the world of spirits, where God acts directly and which have nothing to do with matter and causes. The spirit is breathed into the embryo directly without the mediation of causes. It is a direct manifestation of the Divine Name, the All-living, and therefore the basis of human life. Like â€˜naturalâ€™ laws, which issue from the same realm from which the spirit is sent, the spirit is invisible and known through its manifestations.
In this world, matter is refined in favour of life. A lifeless body, no matter how big it is, like a mountain, is lonely, passive and static. But, life enables a body the size of a bee, for example, to enter into transactions or business with almost the whole world and causes it to go as far as saying: â€˜This world is my garden and flowers are my business partners? The smaller a living body is the more active, astonishing and powerful life is. You can compare a bee, a fly or even micro-organisms with an elephant. Also the more refined matter is the more active and powerful a body is. For example, when wood burns, it produces flames and carbon. When heated, water vaporizes. We come across electrical energy in the atomic or subatomic world. We cannot see electrical energy but we can come to know how powerful it is though its manifestations. That means existence does not consist in the visible, material world. Rather, this world is only the apparent, mutable and unstable dimension of existence. Behind it lies the pure invisible dimension, which uses matter to be seen and known. Thus, the spirit belongs to that dimension and is therefore pure and invisible.
8. The arguments for the existence of the spirit also point to the existence of the Creator. They are as follows:
a. Just as the body, which God creates from elements, needs the spirit to command and govern it, the universe, with everything in it, needs God to bring it into existence and to command and govern it.
b. There is a single spirit for a single body to make it alive and govern it. So, there must be a single Lord, with no partners to create and govern the universe. Otherwise, disorder and confusion would be inevitable.
c. We cannot say that the spirit is in any place or part of the body. It is not contained in a specific place in the body. It may even leave the body but, as is the case with dreams, continues its relation with the body by means of a cord special to it. Likewise, God Almighty is not contained by time or space; although He is always present everywhere. He is nowhere. However, the spirit is in the body and therefore contained by space.
d. The sun is one and the world is very distant from it. But the sun is present everywhere in the world through its heat and light and its image may even be in every transparent thing in the world. Therefore, it may be said that the sun is nearer to things than things themselves. Similarly, the spirit has the same relation with the whole of the body as well as with all of the cells separately at the same time. This may be an analogy to understand Godâ€™s relation with the existence. He controls and directs all things at the same time like a single thing and although we are infinitely distant from Him, He is nearer to us than ourselves.
e. The spirit is invisible and its nature is unknown to us. Likewise, however we think of or imagine God, He is different from it. His Essence cannot be known at all. Like the spirit, God Almighty is known through the manifestations of His Names, Attributes and Essence.
9. The body is not the cover of the spirit. Rather, the spirit has a cover or envelope of itself and when it leaves the body at death, it is not left naked, without a cover. This cover is like the â€˜negativeâ€™ of the material body and called by various names such as the envelope of light, ethereal figure of man, energetic form, second body of man, astral body, the double (of man) and phantom. The picture of this body can be taken through Kirlian photography. In the pictures taken through this kind of photography, even amputated limbs can be seen.