Debating Hamza Tzortzis

Hamza Tzortzis is one of those Muslims, who truly believe in the heavy use of rationality and logic to “prove” the veracity of Islam. I had heard him before debating Dr. Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy and recently came across another one of his debates with Lawrence Krauss.

Even though I have some knowledge of contemporary theoretical physics (through pop-science documentaries, articles and books), I usually do not prefer to talk or write about physics. This is because theoretical physics is extremely technical and unless one truly knows the subject inside out, one has a fat chance, I believe, of making a complete fool of one’s self. Hoodbhoy and Krauss both suggested that Hamza Tzortzis did not understand physics well enough to be speaking about it.

So, instead of speaking about physics, I’d like to talk about certain philosophical shortcomings that I believe exist in the arguments set forth by Hamza Tzortzis in his debate with Krauss called “Islam or atheism: which makes more sense?” (Hamza Tzortzis’ part starts from 7:12)

Whereas there are a lot of points presented by Hamza Tzortzis that I do not agree with, I will, in this post, address only a few of them.

Hamza Tzortzis starts off by saying, from 7:14 to 7:21:

If we use our reason, our rational faculties we will definitely come to the conclusion that Islam makes more sense.

Hamza Tzortzis goes on to make the following two claims:

  1. Islam makes sense of the origins of the Universe.
  2. Islam makes sense of the nature of the Qu’ranic discourse.

In order to discuss his first claim, Hamza Tzortzis says the following around 8:15:

If the Universe is eternal, it implies it has an infinite past. Can we have an infinite past? Does the infinite make sense in the real world.

Hamza Tzortzis then goes on to speak, quoting a number of thinkers, about how infinity does not exist in the physical world and exists only as an abstract idea. He concludes his points with the following statement, around 9:50:

The mathematicians Kasner and Newman said “the infinite certainly does not exist in the same sense that we say there are fish in the sea.”

Around 10:10, Hamza Tzortzis says:

To deny a valid and sound deductive argument is equivalent of denying reality.

Now that I believe is a huge claim. To deny a valid and sound deductive argument is tantamount to denying the so-called rules of logical reasoning i.e., those of deduction. It’s nothing more than that. Reality is much greater and more complex than deductive arguments and incorporates all sorts of reasoning methodologies as well as irrationality and emotions. So, to equate the whole of reality to deductive reasoning is a bit too naive, if not outrightly wrong.

In fact, recent advances in paraconsistent logic and dialetheism seem to suggest that there are true contradictions. This view opposes the traditional, so-called Law of Non-Contradiction, which seems all too obvious and intuitive. The bottom-line is that human knowledge and experiences are much more than just deductive reasoning.

Around 10:18, Hamza lays down the premises for his deductive argument as follows:

  • Premise 1: An actual infinite cannot exist.
  • Premise 2: An infinite history of past events is an actual infinite.
  • Conclusion 1: Therefore, an infinite history of past events cannot exist.
  • Conclusion 2: Therefore, the Universe is finite.
  • Conclusion 3: Therefore, the Universe had a beginning.

This first premise is itself highly problematic since it is based on induction (which is something Hamza Tzortzis heavily uses to dismiss science).

Hamza Tzortzis seems so opposed to inductive reasoning that he states the following between 20:21 and 20:29:

You’d never take an inductive argument over deductive one. Only someone intellectually challenged will do that in my humble opinion.

I believe Hamza Tzortzis went too far with this claim. We, as humans, for all practical purposes, live our lives on the basis of induction rather than deduction. For instance, when one feels thirsty, one drinks water or any other beverage of liking, to quench the thirst. Now, from the perspective of someone who argues against induction (such as Hamza Tzortzis), one has not encountered an infinite number of events of feeling thirsty to conclude that water will quench one’s thirst.

However, every sane and rational person will drink water or some other fluid to quench his/her thirst simply based on prior experience with water (which is based on induction). 

So, even though the inductive reasoning is highly empirical, let’s just consider its philosophical shortcomings, for arguments sake, and move on. If we accept the problem of induction, we can clearly see the flaw of Premise 1. Just because we have, so far in Nature, not encountered an actual infinity does not mean that an actual infinite does not exist.

The second flaw, I see with the first premise is with Hamza Tzortzis’ treatment of time. From a purely philosophical perspective, there is no reason to believe that time cannot be infinite because time is not a physical entity like an apple or a chair or a table. It is, crudely speaking, a “measure of durations of events and the intervals between them.”

Defining time without circularity of definition and with ample precision and clarity, is extremely problematic and there seems to be no universal consensus in philosophy on what time really is.

However, if, from a philosophical perspective and following the footsteps of Leibniz and Kant, we treat time as “fundamental intellectual structure” rather than a “fundamental physical structure,” I see no reason why time cannot be viewed as infinite.

Why would I argue for time to be a intellectual structure is the subject of another blog-post I have written.

Suffice to say that if time is conceived to be infinite, then one can surely argue that the Universe might have existed forever albeit in a form/configuration/state that we don’t truly know of prior to the so-called Big Bang.

It is, therefore, more intellectually honest to acknowledge the possibility of the existence of such a Universe rather than to completely deny its eternal existence.

I will not elaborate on Premise 2 and Conclusion 1, 2 and 3 for, I believe there is no need to talk about them, if the appropriate contentions about Premise 1 have been properly articulated.

I will end this post here. I will also try to contact Hamza Tzortzis to see if he can respond to the objections I have raised. Let’s see if he replies back or not.

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