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How do we reconcile Quran [16:2] "Life is a test":

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[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed - and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving - Quran [16:2]

With the all-knowing quality of Allah that implies that He always knew the future and, therefore, the result to the Test?

In the book Osul Al-Kafi there is an attempt to answer from Imam Ali bin Musa al-Rida:

"یفتنون کما یفتن الذهب ثم قال یخلصون کما یخلص الذهب"

People are tested as gold is tested and people are purified as gold is purified.

But why test gold if you already know its purity and why purify gold if you already created it with the purity level that you desire?

Then, if He really is all-knowing, why did He created this life as a test?

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    "people are purified as gold is purified." That doesn't fit with eternal torture as there's no end to it. Purification is to reach a state of purity, which doesn't ever set in if it takes eternally. – G. Bach Aug 12 '17 at 12:44
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    Still, this makes no sense: why would you create a being knowing that then you'll have to torture him/her for eternity? How can this be reconciled with the notion that Allah is all-loving? – TruthSeeker Aug 12 '17 at 15:25
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    Maybe Why did Allah create hell? is related. My own answer summarizes the main theological opinions I'm aware of together with the problems that they are supposed to resolve. – G. Bach Aug 12 '17 at 15:33
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    The word supposed is very appropriate :) – TruthSeeker Aug 12 '17 at 16:03
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    @0tyranny 0poverty nonsense: the parent isn't the creator of the child nor the teacher created the student. So there is no similarity. – TruthSeeker Aug 14 '17 at 19:09
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To repeat your question, you are asking why a God who is Omniscient would test one or more of His creatures since He already knows the outcome.

This is merely a misunderstanding of the word "test." We perform scientific tests, for example, in an effort to find out more about them in a logical and systematic way whose point is accuracy. We test things to determine if they are genuine, for example, as in testing something that looks like a diamond to see if it is in fact diamond or merely glass or cubic zirconium. But this testing from a standpoint of not-knowing in order to find out, is not the sole reason for or type of testing.

An example among humans would be the man who discovered that ulcers can be caused by a bacteria, H pylori, which is treatable by antibiotics. After going through the type of testing mentioned above, he became convinced that he had proved his hypothesis with certainty. Presuming now for the sake of argument that he had been granted total knowledge on the subject of this matter, not merely been convinced by his own evidence (although that could also elucidate this point), we find him performing another test.

In reality, he actually did perform that test, by giving the H Pylori bacteria to himself, and thus prove to others such as the scientific and research community that his hypothesis was true. Had he not been fully convinced, he might have hesitated to expose himself to untreatable ulcers that before that had been considered a chronic incurable condition. But by testing himself, he proved his point (he got ulcers and then treated them with antibiotics successfully) without having to go through years of human subject research. So one can test to prove a fact not to oneself, but to prove to others. So one reason Allah tests us in this life is to prove to us, by which I mean all of us, not only the tested person but also those around him/her including a whole society (if applicable).

There is another reason as well. Allah gave us free will. Truth doesn't have to be fully comprehensible to us to be true. But because Allah is also supremely just, it is essential that our free will be tested; again, not for Allah, but for us. It would be unjust for a creature with free will to be given such a gift without also giving that creature (us in this case) the chance to exercise it in a meaningful way. And that "meaningful way" is giving us choices, consequential choices, which we must be allowed to make entirely using our own free will. Some of these choices involve how we learn: by making mistakes. That in itself makes us superior to the jinn as well as the angels, in that it is one thing to be guided without choice and another thing entirely, and with far greater risk and difficulty, to learn "on one's own".

Some of these choices are far more consequential: mainly, the ethical choices and choices regarding faith and attitude. For this reason we can achieve a greater reward (jannah or paradise) or punishment (hell), i.e., the consequences. At the same time, those important choices are considered "tests" because for us they involve risk. We do not know the outcome for certain. And Allah leaves the decision to us because we asked for (according to the Quran before being created) and got free will. The test is for us to see and understand how the consequences are just and since we are forewarned, to act in a way, for which way we are given guidance in Islam (the Quran and prophetic teachings), that will bring the best consequences.

So in fact it should be easier to see how Allah tests us for us to prove ourselves and to also see the outcome of others around us, and as a means for us to exercise our free will and make choices for which we must ultimately take responsibility — although we are given guidance and mercy from Allah to help us in this.

  • Truth doesn't have to be fully comprehensible BUT it has to be consistent and not self-contradictory. It's not a sufficient condition but it's a necessary one. Being able to ask for something before being created is illogic and inconsistent. Saying that a test is meaningful even if you already know the result for sure is contradictory (it is not others that judge us according to test results, it is God). Saying that God is all-loving and created Hell to torture and punish some of his creations for eternity is contradictory too. Saying that 6th century men lacked in logic isn't :) – Darme Aug 19 '17 at 16:49
  • Your references to Schrödinger's Cat and Dr Barry Marshall seem clever, BUT: Schrodinger's cat is not an example of something that is true, is a paradox specifically designed to point out that one interpretation of quantum mechanics, the orthodox one, may be untrue. Niels Bohr's reply is out of scope. In the case of Dr Barry he is quoted saying "Everyone was against me, but I knew I was right", you see? In that case the test was for the other scientists, they were the judge, that didn't know the result before, and they changed their mind after it. That's why it was meaningful indeed. – Darme Aug 19 '17 at 17:18
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    @Darme Thanks, point well taken. This isn't my field so I have a sketchy understanding of it. Will edit out that unnecessary remark. The real point I was making doesn't really need that. – S Karami Aug 19 '17 at 18:20
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    @Darme Missed your first comment. But re your second, even the name Schroedinger's cat (which I got wrong) was a dead giveaway as to my shortcomings. Re your first, I'm having issues with your logic here. Why is it contradictory to test others as an exercise of their free will? Could one say God knows the whole but allows variations on our smaller scale? Obviously much that is horrific is being allowed to happen, self destruction and oppression etc. but all this is subject to other major corrections. It's a blip on the grand scheme of things. – S Karami Aug 19 '17 at 18:33
  • @S Karami thank you for your intellectual honesty. It isn't contradictory to test others. E.g. a professors tests his students while knowing all the right answers. BUT the professor doesn't know how his students will perform in advance. Because the professor isn't all-knowing and, therefore, he needs to test them in order to judge them. This is what makes the test meaningful. It'd be a contradiction to say: "the prof is all-knowing, he created his students (so in creating them he already decided how they will perform) but they have free will and he tests them in order to judge them". – Darme Aug 19 '17 at 23:16
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There are cases where we don't understand nature such as quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics accurately describes all physics without exception at the nanometer scale, but nobody really understands it. But we don't have to get that abstract. According to the thermodynamic law of entropy we should not get order from disorder so life would not be possible if a designer is not using energy to organize out of chaos. Either chaos rules the universe or design. It can't be both.

“Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?”

So Exalted be Allaah, the True King: Laa ilaaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the Lord of the Supreme Throne!”

[al-Mu’minoon 23:115, 116]

“We created not the heavens and the earth and all that is between them for a (mere) play”

[al-Anbiya’ 21:16]

If design rules the universe, then the outcome is known since it is in the design. Our free will is part of the design, and the outcome of our choices is also known to the designer. Whether or not the knowledge to understand the design of the designer by those designed cannot necessarily be ascertained.

In my comment above, I just gave some similitudes to help frame how a person under tutelage of another; performance can be predicted to certain degree of accuracy. If a person can have some knowledge of future outcomes than of course the creator has absolute all knowledge.

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    "nobody really understands quantum mechanics" are you a physicist? The "thermodynamic law of entropy" which is the second law of thermodynamic doesn't state in any way that "we should not get order from disorder", so I guess no. "Either chaos rules the universe or design. It can't be both." Charles Darwin solved this issue 200 years ago. – TruthSeeker Aug 15 '17 at 8:14
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    @TruthSeeker Nobody, even Einstein understands Quantum Mechanics. It is a model that describes physics at the nanoscale and lower level, but it is not understood. The 2nd law of thermodynamics says unless energy is applied in an organizing fashion external to a system, that systems entropy will increase, become more disorganized and chaotic over time. Things just don't organize by themselves and decrease entropy. I don't see your counter point here. Darwin proved that design rules, he just referred to the designer as 'nature' instead of Allah (swt). – 0tyranny 0poverty Aug 15 '17 at 10:10

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