Friday, 20 February 2009

On The Arrogance in Ignorance

"Turning from the attributes of God to the actions of God, where he delineates his view of creation, Ibn Rushd in his Tahafut al-Tahafut clearly deals with the charge against the philosophers' doctrine on the eternity of the physical universe in his polemic against al-Ghazzali.

Ghazzali perceived that the philosophers had misunderstood the relationship between God and the world, especially since the Qur’an is clear on divine creation. Ghazzali, sustaining the Asharite emphasis on divine power, questioned why God, being the ultimate agent, could not simply create the world ex nihilo and then destroy it in some future point in time? Why did there need to be some obstacle to explain a delay in God’s creative action? In response to this, Ghazzali offered a number of lengthy proofs to challenge the philosopher’s assertions.

Ibn Rushd, merely replied that the "Eternal" works differently than the "Temporal". As humans, we can willfully decide to perform some action and then wait a period of time before completing it. For God, on the other hand, there can be no gap between decision and action; for what differentiates one time from another in God’s mind?

Also, what physical limits can restrict God from acting? Ibn Rushd, in the first discussion, writes about how Ghazzali confused the definition of eternal and human will, making them univocal. For humans, the will is the faculty to choose between two options, and it is desire that compels the will to choose. For God, however, this definition of will is meaningless. God cannot have desire because that would entail change within the eternal when the object of desire was fulfilled. Furthermore, the creation of the world is not simply the choice between two equal alternatives, but a choice of existence or non-existence.

Finally, if all the conditions for action were fulfilled, there would not be any reason for God not to act. God, therefore, being omniscient and omnipotent would have known from the eternal past what he had planned to create, and without limit to his power, there would be no condition to stop the creation from occurring."

This discussion, took place a thousand years ago, in Cordoba, in Arabic, and under the rule of Islam; not the one of negative stereotypes of the 21st century, but that of the virtue of seeking knowledge and enlightenment, even about the nature of God.

The title is not directed at Them Then, but at Us Now.


  1. Lovely!
    Alghazali philosophized that philosophy is all wrong, it was amazing how he attempted to refute everything that came before him. Only to be overruled soon after.
    A thousand years ago, deeeeeeeeeeep philosophy was there, a million years from now, I doubt it's going anywhere

    We're all ignorant in what I would assume to be 99.999999999999% of everything we can sense. What we know so far is barely the tiny drop of the ocean of knowledge. Yet, we're ready to make very broad certainty statements (from on all sides)

    We can only hope to continue to grow and learn

  2. Mazboot, philosophy was there because the value of knowledge was paramount to anything else, it was an act of worship, a means to go closer to The Creator.

    We're ignorant because we became drunk with the illusion of knowledge, we read a wikipedia page, see a report on TV, even write a college paper and become experts, The illusion of knowledge is far more dangerous than ignorance itself.

  3. "The illusion of knowledge is far more dangerous than ignorance itself" > this is going to my fav quotes on FB!

    I have come to believe that knowledge is being taken for granted at this point in time. Since so many questions have been answered, to the extent that we're in a "comfort zone", we occupy ourselves with issues that require less intelligence (like getting a bigger TV). The comfort zone is relative of course. It's now easier to not ponder one's existence or how things are and the Intrinsic Truth of each and focus on Hayfa Wehbe.

    The abundance of information which we perceive as true and fool-proof makes us not want to second-guess anything.

    An interesting convo I have with people who take facts for granted is letting them define what a chair or table is (by form or function). It just shows that we assign a reality to a collection of neutral objects when they realize both terms are interchangeable

  4. KJ: Thank you for the honour, well I totally agree, but I add to the interesting points you raised, that human behaviour vis-a-vis knowledge has evolved into an arrogant approach; for example, we -humans- have gone to space and we've found out what the universe looks like, and that gave us a collective feeling of pompousness, which we excercise on each other.

    The more you think you know, the less you respect others, a cardinal sin for knowledge seekers, as Knowledge and Pride go in opposite directions, the more you have of one, the less you'd be in the other.

  5. Well its really sad that we can't have such discussions nowadays. It's not because we are not capable of doing so, it's because we are not allowed to. To be able to reach such a level requires years of grooming to equipt a scholar with the skills and abilities for critical thinking and to be able to venture in his thought without inhibitions or restrictions. Alas al ghazzali was the one that won the hearts and minds of the world(i.e muslim world) at the time. ibn rushd, as expected, was ostracized from his community even called an apostate and had his corpus (BoK) burned. So if there was a time when the schisim of east and west could be traced to a single event, this might be it... for while the east rejected ibn rushd teachings (what survived of it) the west embraced it.
    You have to appreciate the time and the place that allowed such discussions to occur and why it happened at that specific instant in history and why it stopped. mainly its about the tug and pull of liberal and conservative forces. In closure, when we learned about all those great liberal characters in islamic history they were always distilled in the pious, betraying their original character and i can imagine it to be a great insult to their minds.
    Now a knowledge seeker realizes how little he knows and learns to be less subjective the more he understand things , and there is a great difference between knowledge and information ...
    ps. it annoying that i have to log in and use an empty profile when commenting here, why isn't there anon commenting ?

  6. No_Angel, those are good points, but critical thinking is part and parcial of the teachings of Islam, this is urged in both the Qur'an and the sayings of the prophet, and as you've mentioned, not being allowed to excercise this God-given right is what we have to address, as we're living the concequences of the limitation of inquisitiveness, by theologians who decreed this to be blasphamy in the case of Ibn Rushd, and made us, 1000 years on, concerned with the holiness of Camel Urine, for example.

    Anonymous commenting is now possible.

  7. actually I was slightly protesting the fact that ibn rushd's legacy was presented by a religious tent, when if you read whats left of his works you can clearly understand that he was atleast a free thinker and was blasphemous in certain instances... It's because the majority let religious conservatives take the helm and dictate the discussion (influenced by al ghazzali and others of his ilk). So you end up getting the people that always preach about how great the islamic system is praising ibn rushd for his insights when they are the last people to honor the spirit of his work ... that hypocrisy is the bane of the centrists.
    ps. thanks for enabling it :D

  8. bambam, true, but the phenomenon of free thinking was possible, in its liberal interpritations based on the premis of encouragement of free thought within the faith itself, and the blasphemous views of Ibn Rushd were an attempt at that, not because he saught a quarrel with Ghazali's school, in their duel of minds and philosphies, but Ibn Rushd's so called blasphemous ideas weren't made in the spirit of deliberate insult to the faith, but rather poking the conservative bear in the eye. Which, in one way or the other offers space for praise of the Islamic system of thought, through its flexiblility towards philosophy and science as concepts of inquisitiveness, politics and power sometimes delutes these values, as was the case with Ibn Rushd himself, by manipulation and monopoly of the "truth" by his oppsition.

    You're welcome.