Al-Ghazali Contra Aristotle:
An Unforeseen Overture to Science In Eleventh-Century Baghdad
Richard P. Aulie
3117 W Sunnyside #1
Chicago, IL 60625
From: PSCF 45 (March 1994): 26-46.
[?]The year was A.D. 1091, the city was Baghdad, and a thirty-three year-old scholar, whose reputation for Greek learning and religious piety had preceded him, was arriving by caravan from the east. His name was Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al Tusi al-Ghazali. He was born in Persia. He wrote and spoke Arabic. His religion was Islam.1 And what he wrote during the next four years played a definite, though unforeseen r┘le in the origin of modern science.
One Basic Idea
It would seem far-fetched, would it not, that our everyday life of computers and DNA and research and all the rest would have anything imaginable to do with one particular person with a strange-sounding name, a name that few non-Muslims today have ever heard of, a person who lived nine centuries ago and in a society completely unlike our own? Ask any computer specialist today what good have the Middle Ages done for us. While his or her eyes glaze over, the answer likely will be "nothing." In a sense, this is the correct answer.
So great is the gulf fixed between the medieval and the modern that we are not even aware that a transformation in thought has occurred, a transformation more revolutionary even than the coming of computers and DNA. What one, basic idea about the natural world most distinguishes our modern age from the medieval? Unless we have taken the time to look into the matter, we would be hard put either to say what this would be or why knowing would be of interest to anyone. Yet we conduct our everyday lives as though we knew.
The concepts, the ideas that produced modern comforts and inventions, the tools of thought needed to think about the natural world are all different from those used in the Middle Ages. We do not think about nature the way people did then. The very intellectual furniture of our minds has been changed. Can we say therefore that a connection really exists between the Arabic culture of the Middle Ages and the rise of science in the Western Renaissance; between the vanished culture of eleventh-century Baghdad and the scientific culture of our day?
Of course, we can be sure that our thirty-three year-old Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, riding his camel down the western slopes of the Zagros Mountains and approaching the Tigris River for the first time, had no such exalted thoughts in his head. He had concerns of his own, and personal objectives that were specific to his own time. Still, if we could have joined Abu Hamid's caravan arriving from Persia and followed him through the next four years we could have discovered an outlook on life and habits of thought to which many readers of this journal might respond. There's a certain parallel between his life and ours.
For one thing, he came to Baghdad to take up a teaching job, and apparently he was popular and successful, for it is said that he had some three hundred students every year. For another, he was ambitious, and set about to make a name for himself by writing scholarly books. Most important for the purpose of this paper, he did not hesitate to ruffle academic feathers; his Islamic faith prompted him to dispute what the learned were saying about nature, and in so doing he challenged Aristotle, who was the great authority figure of the Middle Ages.
In those days the learned poured out a good deal of energy on a pair of weighty alternatives: the world was either eternal or had a beginning. The Middle Ages had a way of stating a problem with the utmost clarity. This eternality and creation couplet represented the central controversy in which al-Ghazali took sides. The main subject was Aristotelian thought, which was the orthodoxy of the day. Against this orthodoxy, with its claim that the world was eternal, was arrayed the monotheism of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which proclaimed that the world was created .
For several centuries, learned Jews, Christians, and Muslims followed Aristotelian philosophy, and they also followed biblical and qur'anic precepts. In consequence of their monotheism they wrestled with the two alternatives, eternality and creation. Al-Ghazali was a lively participant in this debate during the last decade of the eleventh century. The aim of the learned of all three faiths was to get at the real Aristotle and to maintain their respective theological orthodoxies. As a result, a lively ferment of ideas nurtured the rise of western civilization. Moreover, the unforeseen outcome of this debate determined the possibility of science as we know it. Whether the world was regarded as eternal or created determined whether one day we could access computers and DNA.
In other words, if the world is eternal, as Aristotle had declared, then everything we observe in nature is logical and "fixed," and determined from all eternity to be as it is observed to be, nothing new can ever occur in nature, and in consequence, science as we know it could never have been possible. On the other hand, if the world had a beginning, as revealed in both the Bible and the Qur'an, then something new might occur, and therefore we cannot be sure of what nature is like unless we go out and investigate. Centuries were required for the learned to get it into their heads that the world was not eternal, but had a beginning, and it was the working out of the implications that flowed from this transformation of thought during the Western Renaissance; that is, it was the working out of the implications of the doctrine of creation that gave rise to modern science. 2
This creation and eternality couplet has reminded me of the present-day couplet of "scientific creationism" versus evolution. But any supposed parallel quickly breaks down. People are no longer worried about whether the world is eternal, I take it, and the other member of the medieval couplet is stated today with rather less clarity, I sometimes think, in that "scientific creationism" is more often than not confused with "creation." I should make my own position clear straightaway: "scientific creationism," that we hear so much about these days and which is sometimes called "creation science," "special creation," or simply "creationism," has descended from the biological concept of "special creation" that was invented in the eighteenth century. "Scientific creationism" can only be confrontational, divisive within churches, and an obstacle to science education; it is not scientific, and, most important, it has nothing whatever to do with the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic doctrine of creation. What interests me here is the basic idea that made science possible, and that was the theological concept of "creation."3
All of the above is by way of coming to the point of this essay. I wish to bring out al-Ghazali's Islamic view of creation (khalqun), and examine how he opposed Aristotelian eternality (abadi); hence my title, "Al-Ghazali contra Aristotle." He was not concerned with the foundations of science, as some of us are today, although he certainly was interested in the logical foundations of knowledge ('ilm, or falsafa) in general. The word "science" was unknown; it did not come into its present-day use until about the mid-nineteenth century.4 His intention was to interpret Aristotle correctly and to strengthen Islamic faith among his contemporaries. But the unforeseen result was to help modify and weaken Aristotelian thought; hence my subtitle "An unforeseen overture to science..." It was the overthrow of Aristotelian eternality and the establishment of the concept that the world had a beginning that made modern science possible. He played a leading r┘le in that transformation of thought.
Now, it cannot be expected that "al-Ghazali" would be a household name among readers of this journal as well known, for instance, as the name "Darwin." On the other hand, we might expect his name to enjoy more familiarity among almost one billion of the Earth's inhabitants.5 That seems to be the case, at any rate, along Kedzie Avenue in Chicago, among the shopkeepers who have settled there from Cairo and Ramallah and Nineveh. In a recent poll conducted by a regular customer, the transplanted shopkeepers did recognize the name, although they were not exactly sure why he is sometimes called '"the proof of Islam'" (huijjat al-Islam).6 One question the poll-taker did not venture to ask was how, in their opinion, did al-Ghazali contribute to the coming of computers and DNA, it being thought that they would have no more notion of that sequence than our computer specialist had of any benefits we have received from the Middle ages.
So let us return to that caravan coming from the Persian desert, and follow the thoughts of one person, who was learned and deeply religious, who was coming to take up a teaching job, during the last decade of the eleventh century in medieval Baghdad, who promptly entered the controversy over whether the world is eternal or created, one particular Muslim scholar, and find out what kind of a place he was getting into and see what he had to say.
In Al-ghazali's Baghdad
An academic sinecure awaited Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. His learning and piety had already come to the notice of the powerful Nizam al-Mulk, who was the vizier, or minister of state, of the reigning Seljuk Turks. This Seljuk vizier was an enlightened public figure in Persian society and a patron of learning; he wrote a treatise on good government, established academies of advanced education, instigated calendar reform, and lavished public funds on teachers and poets. He had hired al-Ghazali to teach theology and uphold Sunni orthodoxy at a handsome new seminary he had established, in the city of Baghdad, and which was the most influential of all his academies.7 The seminary, called the Nizamiyyah College and which was named after himself, had a considerable endowment that provided room, board, and tuition for the students, and salaries for the teachers. It is well that he made these provisions, inasmuch as he was assassinated the year after al-Ghazali's arrival. The Nizam had established this particular seminary on the east bank of the Tigris River, in about the year 1067; it antedated by almost a century the earliest university in Europe.8
There at the Nizamiyah al-Ghazali made his mark. At ease in Arabic and Persian, he was a prolific writer and most probably an effective teacher. Before long he outshone his colleagues and grew popular far outside his classroom. A letter arrived one day from the Berber monarch in distant Morocco, one Yusuf ibn Tashfin, soliciting the legal expertise of the famous Persian newcomer in Baghdad. It is clear, however, that if he were in higher education today he would not get far. For one thing, he believed that education should not only advance knowledge but also strengthen moral character. For another, he believed that theological precepts have a proper role in the organization of knowledge. Moreover, it was his robust theism that prompted him to mount a vigorous critique of Aristotelian thought. What he had to say is worth noticing whenever we examine the origins of modern science.
In order to understand why this bilingual Persian could master Aristotle in Arabic, apparently even before his arrival in Baghdad, and why his writings can now be seen to have a place in the origins of modern science, it is well to understand that he was entering a cultural setting that was very old; Baghdad had waxed and waned as a center of commerce, government, and learning already for some four centuries when he came to town. A rich cultural heritage brought forth his achievement.
Al-Ghazali's Baghdad was a city of some one million souls and the capital of the long-lived 'Abbasid Caliphate. This government was founded in A.D. 749 by Abu-al-'Abbas, who was descended from an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, and who took the title of "Caliph" (khalifa), meaning representative of God (Allah) on Earth. The Caliphate brought high civilization to wide-ranging lands and peoples and lasted until A.D. 1258 when the Mongols sacked Baghdad. But in the late eleventh century the 'Abassids were at the perigee of Muslim influence.9 Although the Arabs had long since securely planted Islam all the way to the Atlantic and as far east as the Himalayas, the once-glittering empire had been splitting into sundry dynasts and schisms. Strong medicine was needed. This was being administered by the invading Seljuk Turks, who had been in control of Baghdad for some thirty-six years when al-Ghazali arrived.
They were a vigorous lot, the Seljuks. Their forebears were tough nomads on the steppes of Central Asia, in Turkestan. Appearing in the eleventh century, they had swarmed in on horseback. They planted their feet on the necks of the Sunni Arabs, whose religion and urban ways they quickly absorbed, they gained prominence under the illustrious Nizam al-Mulk, and already they were aiming themselves at Constantinople.10 With the Seljuks and al-Ghazali, who himself was a product of Seljuk education, religious Islam gained ascendancy and for a brief interval brought rejuvenation to the distracted realm.
The Golden Age Of Islam
As with Arabs today, it was to the past that al-Ghazali gazed with pride. Three centuries before his time, the 'Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, who was the contemporary of the Emperor Charlemagne and who is celebrated in the Thousand and One Nights, first recognized the value of translating Greek manuscripts into Arabic. Harun al-Rashid opened the way for the establishment and expansion of Arab learning.
Al-Ghazali could look back with particular pride to the reign of Rashid's son and successor, the Caliph al-Ma'mun, under whose administration Greek science and mathematics were embraced. When Aristotle appeared to al-Ma'mun in a dream with the assurance that reason and religion were closely related, al-Ma'mun knew what that meant: Allah wanted him to make Greek learning available in Arabic, and to be quick about it. Whereupon the enlightened al-Ma'mun threw himself heart and soul into the project.11
Al-Ma'mun dispatched his agents near and far to collect manuscripts, from monasteries in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, from private collections in Constantinople. In A.D. 830 he established a translation center in Baghdad. This "House of Wisdom," as it was called, also included a library and possibly an astronomical observatory. A number of fine libraries, in fact, graced Baghdad during the 'Abassid age and the many who came to learn undoubtedly turned them into busy places.12
An especially talented learner and teacher during those uncommon years was the brilliant mathematician named Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi. He was probably about age thirty when he had the happiness of falling under the notice of the Caliph al-Ma'mun, who put him on the public payroll at the House of Wisdom. Al-Khwarizmi, for his part, was careful to dedicate several of his books to the Caliph. He wrote treatises in astronomy and mathematics, on the astrolabe, the Jewish calendar, and geography, but he is regarded chiefly as one of the founders of algebra. The term itself is derived from the title of his book, Al-jabr wa'l-muqabala, which I translate simply as "study of equations" instead of the more literal "restoration and balancing," and which he developed in part from Babylonian, Hindu, and Greek sources. Its Latin translation, the Liber algebrae et almucabola, helped to introduce algebra into Europe.13 At any rate, the not-old and ambitious al-Khawarizmi would repair to the House of Wisdom library of an afternoon, and there, with a comfortable living assured from the 'Abbasid treasury, he could read in peace and work on his astronomical tables and his second-degree quadratic equations, which incidentally he wrote without using any symbols.
The Caliph al-Ma'mun hired talented Nestorian Christians who were fluent in Arabic, Greek, and Syriac and installed them in his House of Wisdom.14 They waxed rich by translating for him. Nestorian Christians of the ninth century became the bridge between Islam and Hellenism, and because of their expertise Greek science reached the West. Under Nestorian Christian hands, the works of Aristotle, including the Categories, Generation and Corruption, the Heavens, the Physics, History of Animals, the Metaphysics; and in addition, the works of Euclid, Galen, Hippocrates, and Ptolemy all were rendered into Arabic at the behest of the Muslim government.15
A leading administrator of the translating enterprise was named Hunain ibn Ishaq, a Nestorian Christian who did much of the translating work himself, from Greek to Arabic with Syriac as a probable intermediate step. He supervised the translators, who included Jews, Muslims, and Sabians, and his expertise earned him much wealth and prestige among the Arabs. Detailed records of the time describe how the work was done, where the translators came from, their recruitment, salaries, and high standing in the Muslim government.16 All of this transpired two hundred years before al-Ghazali came to Baghdad.
As a consequence of al-Ma'mun's policy, the accomplishments of the Greeks were secured and made available to the learned of the Arab world. By the last quarter of the ninth century, the translating, most of it done in Baghdad, the opulent capital of the 'Abassid Caliphate in the East, was complete. At a time when Charlemagne was only beginning to learn how to write his own name, al-Rashid and al-Ma'mun and the learned of the Arab world were exploring and promoting Greek philosophy and science.
The Caliph al-Ma'mun was much interested in astronomy as a means of solving practical problems in Islamic life, such as determining the correct time for prayer. He hired the best astronomers of the day, and set them to checking the results obtained by Ptolemy, the great astronomer-mathematician of antiquity, concerning the length
of the solar year, obliquity of the ecliptic, precession of the equinoxes, and the like. As a further expression of his wide-ranging interests, about the year A.D. 822 he sent his astronomers to a site, said to have been at Tudmor, which is now Palmyra, in Syria, to determine the length of one degree along the north-south meridian in order to calculate the circumference of the Earth, it being common knowledge since antiquity that the Earth is round.17
This was the "Golden Age" of the Arabs, which lasted approximately from the middle of the ninth century to the time of 'Umar al-Khayyam at the end of the eleventh. During this period, the translations became the foundation not only for Arabic originality in mathematics, medicine, and science, but also for the flowering of Islamic theology.18 Muslim philosophers and theologians were dazzled by Aristotle. But they quickly noticed that their Arabic translations of Aristotle seemed to contradict the Qur'an, and this brings me to the reason for al-Ghazali's annoyance with the opinions of the learned elite.
Aristotelianism And Monotheism
Two schools of thought contended for supremacy in accommodating Islam to Aristotelian thought. That is, two different groups of Muslim theologians and philosophers developed contrasting qur'anic interpretations of Aristotle. The first heralded reason in the Greek tradition, holding that Aristotle and Muhammad were both right.19 Avicenna, who was celebrated in the Latin West as a philosopher and physician, held this view. In the second school of thought, and also as a reaction to the first, Aristotelianism was respected but was subordinated to orthodox Islamic theology.20 The most important exponent of this position was al-Ghazali.
What had happened was this. In not many decades after Muhammad's death, in A.D. 632, the tongue of the Arabian desert had become the idiom of the learned. Now, the questions that concerned the philosophers and theologians of that timeˇespecially in the language they used in treating the nature of God and the worldˇare often thought today to be obsolete, and it may be of some surprise that anyone who spoke Arabic would have been concerned at all. At any rate, from the Atlantic seaboard east to the Nile and the Euphrates and Tigris, and well beyond to the flood plains of the Oxus and the Indus, the learned among Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike found themselves bound together by their common monotheism and by what they regarded as their common allegiance to their Greek masters.21
The Incoherence Of The Philosophers
What worried al-Ghazali, however, was that far too many people were falling under the spell of philosophers who were putting out altogether wrong ideas about Aristotle. They had all left the faith of their fathers and were following false doctrines. While upholding Greek doctrine he blamed the philosophers, who were misleading the faithful by elevating human reason, which, when unaided by revelation, in his opinion only led to unbelief.
In choosing the title for his bookˇThe Incoherence of the Philosophers (Al-Tahafut al-Falasifa)ˇhe lost no time in declaring what he thought of the prevailing champions of Greek thought.22 This book is not light reading. Al-Ghazali expounded his views in tightly-reasoned prose that displays his mastery of Aristotelian logic and his facility with the technical vocabulary of philosophy and theology. The translation from the Arabic by the orientalist Simon van den Bergh is a splendid contribution to the literature of the Middle Ages and prompts a new appreciation of how deep are the wellsprings of our western heritage. And we can easily surmise from the Incoherence of the Philosophers that al-Ghazali found in the Arabic language a supple and versatile instrument for expressing complex and highly abstract ideas.
The chief culprit among those who were incoherent was Abu-'Ali al-Husayn ibn Sina, or Avicenna, as he came to be known in the West. A native of a village near the city of Bukhara in what is now Turkestan, ibn Sina was the great tenth and early eleventh century Persian physician and philosopher, whose encyclopedic Canon of Medicine influenced the practice of medicine both in the Middle East and in Europe for many centuries.23 Al-Ghazali was never timid in singling out his great predecessor, who he claimed was misleading the faithful by means of an altogether undue reliance on Aristotle.
Throughout his Incoherence of the Philosophers, in fact, al-Ghazali defended faith in Allah, but simultaneously he revered Aristotle, and cited with admiration four of his works, the Generation and Corruption, the Heavens, the History of Animals, and the Physics. He ratified his admiration of these works by invoking the Qur'an: "The Holy Law does not ask one to contest and refute them."24 Like almost all the learned of the Middle Ages, he remained securely within the embrace of Aristotle. But time and again we find him becoming obliged by his Islamic faith to seek release from Aristotelian thought.
In his opinion, ibn Sina was incoherent because he failed to recognize the numerous contradictions and inconsistencies between Aristotelianism and Islam. Pious and learned Muslims who followed ibn Sina into false teaching, he felt, therefore encountered these troublesome obstacles to faith, especially to their belief in creation. I analyze his views concerning creaton according to the following overlapping topics: (a) divine creation, (b) divine essence, and (c) the divine will, as follows.
First of all, the learned knew perfectly well that Aristotle had declared the world to be eternal; they had read this often enough in the Physics, the Heavens, and also in the Metaphysics. Aristotle in fact had based his argument for the existence of the Unmoved Mover, or God, on the premise of the eternality of celestial motion.25
Christians, Jews, and Muslims, gazing at the night sky, could not fail to be impressed by this Aristotelian argument. The wheeling both of the stars and also of the wandering stars, as the planets were called, seemed indeed to bear out Aristotle's unequivocal declaration, in the Heavens, that "the heaven as a whole neither came into being nor admits of destruction, but is one and eternal, with no end or beginning of its duration."26 But as followers of monotheism, they shared a common faith in creation.
And so it was that many of the learned grew skeptical, and joined reason with faith to argue instead from the premise of the temporality of the world; life was fleeting and earthly goods finite and transitory. With al-Ghazali, what is important to keep in mind is that theological arguments drawn from Islamic monotheism called into question the core of Aristotelian thought.
The Muslim philosophers, who followed ibn Sina in embracing Aristotelian eternality, also believed, with al-Ghazali, that the world (al-samw wa-l-'ard, or l-konun) was created by Allah. Now, if the world were eternal, he wanted to know, how could it have been created? In their zeal to embrace Aristotelian thought, he complained, ibn Sina and his Muslim admirers had not really proved that the world was eternal.
They say that the world is caused, and that its cause is without beginning or end, and that this applies both to the effect and to the cause, and that, if the cause does not change, the effect cannot change either; upon this they build their proof of the impossibility of its beginning.27
He asked repeatedly whether there could be any causal nexus at all between an eternal unchangeable God and an eternal changing world. His answer was no; his main theme in fact was the logical contradiction he saw in the concept of eternal creation.
For two centuries after Muhammad, creation meant, generally speaking, out of nothing. Then, with the advent of the Arabic translations of Greek manuscripts, those who read the Qur'an began to see that creation might also mean, not only from nothing, but also from a preexistent something. But if that were the case, was that preexistent something a pre-world matter? If so, this view would be consonant with what Aristotle had said. Or did the world issue eternally from the eternal and inexhaustible essence (mahiyyah) of Allah, as the Neoplatonists were fond of saying.28
On most pages al-Ghazali wrote as though he meant creation from nothing, although he did not use that formula.29 But now and again, when pondering how the composite Earth of animals, minerals and vegetables could result from the exertions of the First Principle, he would resort to the language of Neoplatonic emanations, with heavenly spheres and souls and intellects filling the celestial spaces.
In any case, belief in creation meant a problem with Aristotle: either accommodation or opposition.30 It was plain to al-Ghazali that the reasons for creation were far better than for eternality. In his opinion, ordinary observations of the night sky provided a splendid argument for creation. He argued that the continuous revolutions of the planets and stars, far from demonstrating eternal motion, as Aristotle maintained, actually called into question Aristotle's own concept of infinity, which was basic to Aristotle's teaching that the world had no beginning.31
In discussing infinity, he put forward an ingenious argument concerning the rotation of the celestial spheres, displaying as he did so his grasp of Aristotelian cosmology and also of Ptolemaic and Arab astronomy.32 One year was required for the Sun to revolve around the Earth, he reminded his readers, twelve years were required for Jupiter, thirty for Saturn, and the firmament itself performed a complete rotation in 36,000 years.33 He had consulted the Arabic edition of the Almagest, Book 7, in which the mathematician Ptolemy had adopted the calculations of Hipparchus, who was the great astronomical observer of antiquity.34
Because the planetary and stellar periods were all different, al-Ghazali reasoned, they must have had a beginning. If Aristotle's assertion were correct that these celestial bodies were eternal, then the infinite number of revolutions of Saturn ought to be equal to the infinite number of revolutions of the fixed stars, even though Saturn required thirty years for one revolution and the outer sphere of the fixed stars required 36,000 years.
Now if that were so, reasoned al-Ghazali, Aristotle would have meant that, not only could an infinite number be counted, but one infinite could be larger than another; so that the infinite revolutions of Saturn would be a thousand times more than the infinite revolutions of the fixed stars.35 But Aristotle had maintained that the infinite could not be counted. Therefore, reasoned al-Ghazali, the world could not be eternal but must have been created. So, here we have the leading theologian of Baghdad and of the eleventh century, this acute student of Aristotle, deploying the declarations of Aristotle himself against Aristotelian eternality and on behalf of an assured theism.36
Actually, this ingenious argument was first put forward by the sixth century Christian thinker, John Philoponus, in his book entitled, Eternity of the World, which al-Ghazali might have read in Arabic translation.37 In fact, a dozen or so other Muslim theologians thought up variations of this argument in order to oppose Aristotle.38
Time And Space
Nor did he have any hesitation in departing from Aristotle when he declared that time itself was created, and that the will of Allah was responsible. The desert sage was unequivocal:
Time is generated and created, and before it there was no time at all. The meaning of our words that God is prior to the world and to time is: He existed without the world and without time, then He existed and with Him there was the world and there was time.39
Such cool assurance, however, only raised new questions. How was it that we could imagine a "time" preceding the creation of time? How could there have been a "before" when time did not exist? Ordinarily such an intuition would have been an argument for the eternity (qadam) of time. He saw no problem at all, and, in the light of his own devout Islamic faith, gave an intriguing example of what he meant:
If we say, for instance, that God existed without Jesus, and then He existed with Jesus, these words contain nothing but, first, the existence of an essence and the non-existence of an essence, then, the existence of two essences, and there is no need to assume here a third essence, namely, time.40
Was this devout Muslim referring here to the pre-existence of Jesus? If so, it would only be in keeping with the high place he accorded to Jesus, and indeed with the veneration of Jesus by Islam as a whole.
But what was time? He could not be sure, but agreed with Aristotle in twice saying that time was somehow a measure of motion.41 Whatever time was, it was relative, he believed, and its subjective character was a consequence of our inability to "imagine the beginning of a thing without something preceding it." Our imagination refuses to believe in the absence of a "real anterior" to the creation. We simply cannot transcend the limits of our finite being. God (Allah) alone transcends time.42
Just as a time anterior to the world was an illusion, claimed al-Ghazali, a void space outside the world was also an illusion. Thoughts about time were leading him to thoughts about space. In a sense, the two categories were commensurable, and in his opinion were related to the human perspective.
There is no difference between temporal extension, which is apprehended as divided through the relation of before and after, and spatial extension, which is apprehended as divided through the relation of high and low.43
What he meant was this: It was entirely possible for us to admit the existence of a beginning with no preceding time, even though, humanly speaking, we cannot visualize such a thing. Likewise, one could also admit, but not visualize, a "highest" point, or boundary, beyond which there was absolutely nothing. In other words, he explained, we cannot imagine the boundary of the world at the outer sphere without imagining something "beyond" it. But when we say there is no "beyond," we do not know what this means, for "it belongs to the illusion of imagination." He had been mulling over what Aristotle had said in the Physics, Heavens, and the Categories about space and the "void."44
Having agreed with Aristotle that time was an attribute of motion, he also agreed with Aristotle that extension, or dimension, was an attribute of an object occupying space, and that space itself without extension was unintelligible. Just as the world had no "above" and "below"ˇin saying this he was departing from Aristotle againˇso it was that "outside" the world was neither occupied nor was it empty spaceˇin this returning to Aristotle.45 Al-Ghazali was nothing if not an independent thinker.
Next, he turned to what both Aristotle and Muhammad had to say about the nature of Godˇthat is, the meaning of the divine essence, and how this was expressed in the divine acts. In other words, was Aristotle's Prime Mover the same as Allah? This was a fraught question likewise for Christians and Jews. Was Aristotle's Prime Mover the same as the Jehovah of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? If so, then the nature of God to whom one prayed was of some consequence. And if so, then it followed that nature, meaning the world itself, would be found to have certain characteristics. For the devout among the Muslim learned, the most prominent expression of the divine essence was in the act of creation.
Act Of The Agentˇcreation And The Creator
The act of creating the world occurred because Allah willed it so, al-Ghazali insisted, and will was the faculty of differentiating one thing from another. For example, while creating the celestial spheres, God could have chosen any two opposite points on the sphere for the location of the celestial poles; that is, on the eighth sphere, which contained the fixed stars; instead of the locations now observed. Any two opposite points would have done as well, he maintained, and "especially the highest sphere, the ninth, which possesses no stars at all," could also revolve on any two other, opposite poles that God could have chosen at the creation.46
We should pause for a look at those two spheres that al-Ghazali picked out in order to emphasize the will of God. When he referred to the sphere of the fixed stars and to the ninth sphere, he was reflecting his own considerable knowledge of eleventh-century cosmology. The shape of the celestial orbits was the Aristotelian circle, and the number of the spheres themselves embodied the development of astronomy since antiquity. Arab astronomers of the day had to account for two observed motions of the stars, the diurnal and the precessional, and they assumed that the Aristotelian circle, as said, was the path of each of those celestial revolutions. Indeed, the Aristotelian circle was assumed to be the shape of the orbits of the Sun, Moon, and the planets, which they called the wandering stars, the Earth being at the center of the cosmos.
According to this scheme, the revolution of the eighth sphere would explain why the stars are seen nightly to sweep in a circle around the pole star (Polaris), as they certainly do, in this way executing their diurnal motion. And a slow revolution of the ninth sphere, its motion somehow being communicated to the sphere of the fixed stars, which is the eighth sphere, would explain the observed, slow longitudinal drift eastward of the stars, that is, the precession of the equinoxes.47 This longitudinal drift eastward was calculated to be once in about 36,000 years and was known since the time of Hipparchus.
What is important here is neither the Aristotelian influence on al-Ghazali, for he did not dispute the validity of the Aristotelian circle, nor his astronomical misconceptions; those spheres do not exist, and the celestial orbits are not Aristotelian circles. Rather, it is the way his Islamic faith in the will of God shaped his view of the cosmos. Here, in declaring that the world could have been other than it is, he was plainly disagreeing with Aristotelian cosmology, which in the Middle Ages declared that the world could ot be other than it is. The world was the result of divine choice, not Aristotelian necessity.
Deep in the eleventh century, the Islamic faith of this Aristotelian never wavered:
The world exists, in the way it exists, in its time, with its qualities, and in its space, by the Divine Will and will is a quality which has the faculty of differentiating one thing from another.48
All the same, Aristotle did remain a pervasive influence on his thought. For instance, he marvelled at how the "Divine Wisdom" could readily be discerned in the "obliquity of the ecliptic," which, after all, determined the "qualities of things" on Earth. When he wrote those words, he probably had been consulting his Arabic edition of the Heavens and also the Generation and Corruption, in both of which Aristotle had declared that the annual movement of the Sun along the ecliptic was the cause of all change and becoming on Earth. Nor, indeed, could he have had any reason to depart from Ptolemaic astronomy when he went on to credit the wisdom of Allah for the "wise contrivance of the apogee and the eccentric sphere," both of which he could have read about only in an Arabic edition of the Almagest.49
Act Of The Agentˇdid God Have Any Say In The Creation?
The Muslim philosophersˇthose renegades in Islam, al-Ghazali called themˇclaimed that the world was the eternal act (fi'lun) of Allah (God), who was the agent(fa'ilun) in the creation. But in thus casting their lot with Aristotle, they had to admit that Allah was not endowed with either will or choice. They believed that creation flowed from Allah, not by choice, but by necessity; and that agent and act were simultaneous. He levelled another censure at the ibn Sina faction:
You say that what proceeds from God proceeds in the way of necessity and nature, and that He has no power not to do it, and this too resembles a kind of bondage, and indicates that He is as it were under necessity as to that which proceeds from Him.50
Ibn Sina and the other renegades were devout Muslims, of course, and believed, as did al-Ghazali, that the world stood in relation to God as effect to cause. But as earnest Aristotelians they conceived that relationship as a necessary connection, one that could not be severed. Ibn Sina, Neoplatonist that he was, had argued that cause and effect were simultaneous with existence.51 The Earth, Moon, Sun, and planets were emanating eternally from the inexhaustible essence of God. The world being everlasting, the moment therefore never came when God was not its agent.52 It was rather like a shadow and a person, or light and the Sun.
Not so, said al-Ghazali. Light and a shadow were only metaphors for effects. Only an act made by choice could be called an act; an agent was a cause that acted by an exercise of the will; and an act implied a will. He was adamant in his opposition to ibn Sina and the other philosophers:
Declare therefore openly that God has no act, so that it becomes clear that your belief is in opposition to the religion of Islam, and do not deceive by saying that God is the maker of the world and that the world is His work, for you use the words, but reject their real sense!53
The word "act" seemed indeed to represent the paper war al-Ghazali was waging against his enemies; it represented the major difference between the Aristotelian and monotheistic views of the world.
What Creation Means
For ibn Sina, act was an eternal process; this meant that existence was joined with the agent in a continuous connection. Agent and act were simultaneous. This was the basis for the belief that, the world being everlasting, the moment never came when God was not its agent.
For al-Ghazali, representing the opposition of monotheism to Aristotelianism, the connection between agent and object meant, on the other hand, a coming into being, and this connection ceased at the transition from non-existence to existence. The act of creation itself produced existence, which meant that the object became separate from the agent; the world, having a temporal existence, was separate from the creator. With this concept of creation came the concept of divine choice: God chose among alternativesˇthe unforeseen consequence of which was the possibility of science. God's act was a temporal process. For al-Ghazali, the question remained: How therefore could ibn Sina say that an eternal world was God's act?54
Lest there be any misunderstanding, the above paragraph cannot be construed as a statement of "creationism," as that term is known today; neither is it anything like a scientific statement. It is a theological affirmation representing the position of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. As such, it can be regarded as an assumption that entered unforeseen and ineluctably into the foundations of modern science during the European Renaissance. Al-Ghazali was not an eleventh-century "creationist."
"Oneness" Of The Agentˇdoes God "Know" Everything?
Moreover, Muslims, as well as Christians and Jews, believed that God is one in eternal essence, and without parts. This belief implied a distinction between divine and human cognition.
For the learned of the Middle ages, the "oneness" of God promptly raised the question of God's self-knowledge and how God's knowledge of His creation differed from how humans "know" something. For the curious of the twentieth-century, versed in the ways of psychology, this question, while certainly abstruse, is not entirely impractical, for it has a bearing on understanding how the mind constructs knowledge of the external environment. For instance, human cognition has two modes: recognizing an object by the senses, and possessing an idea of that object. But divine cognition in this respect cannot be regarded as analogous.
As for the question of how God "knew" something, Ibn Sina had developed a position that was consistent with an Aristotelian view of God. Wishing to avoid plurality in the essence of God and seeking accommodation with Aristotle, he seemed to say that the First Principle had knowledge only of itself.56 Quite possibly Ibn Sina had been pondering Book XII of the Metaphysics, in which Aristotle declared that the thoughts of the Unmoved Mover were only of itself, because, in God, "thought and object of thought are the same."57 According to ibn Sina, therefore, God knew Himself and the created world in the sense of being conscious of what emanated by necessity from His own essence. What Avicenna might have meant, I think, and what al-Ghazali rejected, is that it was appropriate for an omniscient being to know only general and abstract principles; it was not fitting for the deity to be concerned with the humdrum events in our daily lives. Such an Avicennian view might be consistent with that strange Aristotelian principle, in Metaphysics XII.7, of thought thinking itself, that is, of God knowing only His own essence.
Al-Ghazali at once realized that, according to ibn Sina, Allah could not know anything about the very important people and events described in the Qur'an, such as Moses and Aaron, Joseph in Egypt, and David; it would hardly be fitting for Allah not to be aware of the attempted seduction of Joseph in Egypt (Qur'an, surah 12). He restated ibn Sina's position: If God had knowledge of an object in the creation, say, a knowledge of Zaid, this could only mean a dualityˇthat is, knowledge of Himself and also knowledge of Zaidˇand a duality would compromise the oneness of God.
Nonsense, was al-Ghazali's rejoinder. He dismissed the notion. At that rate, if "God does not know the individual," he snapped, "He cannot know that Zaid becomes a heretic or a true believer."58 Not for him a Prime Mover who could do nothing but contemplate itself; he worshipped a Creator who knew the cares of Zaid and Abdul and Khalid, and even of Fatima. He continued:
Indeed they (the philosophers) make Him lower than any of His creatures, who know themselves and know Him, and he who knows Him and knows himself is of a nobler rank than He is, since He knows none but Himself. Their profound thoughts about God's glory end therefore in a denial of everything that is understood by His greatness, and assimilate the state of God to that of a dead body which has no notion of what happens in the world, with the sole exception that God possesses self-knowledge.59
Said he: It should be plain to any decent Muslim that Allah knew not only Himself but certainly knew particulars in His own creation.60 Discussing whether the self-knowledge of God was identical with the divine essence, he argued instead that plurality, as it involved God, at any rate, was actually "in the expression used to describe the essence, not in the essence itself."61
In any case, he insisted, these arguments about plurality in the essence of God were groundless, inasmuch as the heavens themselves displayed abundant evidence that plurality issued from the oneness of God. Why, one needed only to go out and have another look at the night sky to see that this was so. Of course, the sky over eleventh-century Baghdad did not have light pollution; in calling for a look at the stars, he was asking his readers to do something that no twentieth-century city dweller can do.
Out of the First Intellect emanated the sphere of the fixed stars, with some thousand and twenty-odd stars; he was consulting the Almagest again.62 The stars came in all shapes and sizes, with other differences in magnitude, position, color, and in different figures, such as a ram, a bull, a lion, and even a man, which al-Ghazali said are strung along the celestial equator.63 He was mistaken when he said equator; he was referring to the zodiac, which is strung along the ecliptic. And he was two stars off when he looked in the Almagest, which lists 1,022 stars, not 1,020, as he said. At any rate, a plurality proceeding from the First Intellect could be assumed.
Exactly how all this plurality came from Allah he could not tell. To say that the plurality of 1,020 stars was in the First Intellect certainly was to abandon the oneness of God. On the whole, he had no wish to give final answers, only to disturb the claims of the philosophers. "Think about God's creation," he exclaimed, "but do not think about God's essence."64
Having brought to light contradictions between Aristotelianism and Islam in the Muslim belief in divine creation and the divine nature, al-Ghazali then mounted a critique of Aristotelian causality. Among all of his seventeen discussions, this critique quite possibly has the most direct bearing on understanding the origins of modern science. As usual, his reasoning displays a sophisticated grasp of Aristotelian thought. And as usual throughout his Tahafut al-Falasifa, it was his Islamic conception of the divine will that prompted yet another of his analyses of Aristotle's view of the world, resulting this time in a critique of causal relationships in nature.
He realized that if God's will were manifested in acts that were eternal productions of the divine essence, as Aristotle seemed to say, then those acts, including the world itself, could not be voluntary.65 That is, the world would be an inevitable consequence of the divine essence. And this would actually mean that God, if Aristotle were correct, actually had no will. Now, if there were something that Muslims did not believe, it was that Allah had no will.
It is not altogether clear, when al-Ghazali took up this question of causality, just what he meant. But it is clear what he said:
The connection between what is usually believed to be a cause and what is believed to be an effect is not a necessary connection; each of two things has its own individuality and is not the other.66
In short, he denied that any necessary and logical connection exists between cause and effect.
Eternality and necessityˇhe knew that, according to Aristotle, the one required the other. For instance, knowledge of nature was therefore what "could not be other than it is," according to Aristotle in his Posterior Analytics; "the truth obtained by demonstrative knowledge will be necessary." Aristotle is even more outspoken in the Nicomachean Ethics:
We all suppose that what we know is not even capable of being otherwise; of things capable of being otherwise we do not know, when they have passed outside our observation, whether they exist or not. Therefore the object of knowledge is of necessity. Therefore it is eternal; for things that are of necessity in the unqualified sense are all eternal.67
What this passage means is that in the Aristotelian world all observed events had been established from eternity, so that one event logically followed the other, and God exerted no choice, and indeed God could not.
Ibn Sina and other Muslim philosophers, who sided with Aristotle in this matter, had argued that causal connections in nature were both logical and necessary.68 In other words, ibn Sina's world, like Aristotle's, was fixed; its events were made necessary by the eternal and unchanging essence of God, and its events could not be otherwise than they were observed to be. Anything entirely new in either the celestial or the sublunar world was impossible since it would thereby intrude upon the immutability, perfection and self-contemplation of the Necessary Being.
This was the view of Aristotelian causality that was held by various philosophers. But al-Ghazali had his doubts. He wholeheartedly disputed the assertion of the philosophers that the:
connexion between causes and effects is of logical necessity, and that the existence of the cause without the effect or the effect without the cause is not within the realm of the contingent and possible.69
The reason why he took so categorical a stand against this Aristotelian position is primarily because he wished to safeguard the possibility of divine miracles without calling into question the omnipotence of Allah. He felt that Aristotelian necessity would deny the very possibility of divine miracles, of which he cited examples, such as the changing of Moses's rod into a serpent, and the resurrection of the dead. These miracles represented his belief that Allah could impart life to an inanimate object and his belief in the future judgement, beliefs familiar to all Muslims.
Philosophers, who considered "the ordinary course of nature a logical necessity," would claim that such miracles were impossible. If Aristotle and ibn Sina were correct, miracles could not occur because they would "interrupt the usual course of nature," and God's free will would be proscribed.70
Why Cotton Burns
No, each of two apparently related events has its own individuality, nor could each be a cause or effect of the other. Take the burning of cotton. Why was it, he wanted to know, that philosophers were always insisting that fire caused burning, when the only reason they could give was that the two events always occurred together. No, God was the only agent. God created the burning, God created the ashes. In fact God created the knowledge of the burning in the mind of the observer. He explained:
The agent of the burning is God, through His creating the black in the cotton and the disconnexion of its parts, and it is God who made the cotton burn and made it ashes either through the intermediary of angels or without intermediation. For fire is a dead body which has no action, and what is the proof that it is an agent? Indeed, the philosophers have no other proof than the observation of the occurrence of the burning, when there is contact with fire, but observation proves only a simultaneity, not a causation, and, in reality, there is no other cause but God.71
For him, it was not incongruous to reject Aristotelian logical necessity and with the same breath explain himself by means of the Aristotelian four causes, as he does in the above passage. Here we can identify the material causeˇthe cotton itself; the formal causeˇthe essence of the flame; the efficient causeˇthe act of thrusting the cotton into the flame; and the final causeˇthe entelechy or purpose served by burning the cotton to produce ashes. Besides, the invocation of ministering angels is another reminder that al-Ghazali was no strict empiricist; in the Middle Ages, angels were incorporeal intermediaries which the learned sometimes called "intellects," and which functioned in the nexus of the divine and the natural.
The same interpretation he gave to the burning cotton, he maintained, could be applied to all sequential events; the same for all "empirical connexions in medicine, astronomy, the sciences, and the crafts"; the same for all cause-effect couplets such as thirst and drinking, sunrise and light, or medicine and health. After all, drinking did not imply the quenching of thirst. The inscrutable will of Allah was the cause of each event; all so-called causes and effects were separate and divinely executed acts of God.
For the connexions in these things is based on a prior power of God to create them in a successive order, though not because this connexion is necessary in itself and cannot be disjointed.72
Whatever did al-Ghazali mean? By invoking the deity did he deny causality?73 He certainly knew that cotton, when thrust into a flame, would really catch fire. Was he saying that God kept on creating every atom, every instant of time, and even every particle of memory? Or was he saying only that God had created the natural order in which events were observed to follow in sequence? Was his critique of causality a theological barrier inadvertently erected by Islam to the rise of science?74 Or do we find here a pioneering step toward the Western Renaissance?
The criticisms against ibn Sina and other like-minded philosophers were unrelenting. It was even impossible for them to prove the existence of God75. Not only that, declared their critic, but their position even led to atheism. If all temporal events inevitably terminated in an eternal, circular movement of causes and effects, then the world required no cause. This is how he summarized the matter:
It is therefore clear that for the man who does not believe in the temporal creation of bodies there is no foundation for believing in a creator at all.76
Having finished his book and after four years of success at the prestigious Nizamiyah College, he quit his job. He gave up the emoluments and perquisites and privileges that, in his day, as in ours, come with academic life. Some say he had a nervous breakdown, others that he experienced an inner, spiritual transformation as thorough as that experienced by Saul of Tarsus on the way to Damascus.77 In any event, he did go to Damascus.
About the time that Pope Urban II was exhorting the motley hordes that became the first crusade, he left behind the bookstalls, the palaces, the learned discussions, and the aristocracy of merchants, scholars, and poets, together with the sycophants and assassins to be found in the Baghdad of his day, and, having arranged for the care of his wife and daughters, set his face to the western desert. For a time he sojourned in Damascus, where every day he would enter the Umayyad Mosque to worship.78
Medieval Muslims regarded the Umayyad Mosque with its splendid dome and soaring minarets as one of the wonders of the world, and so it must have seemed.79 The Arabs esteemed a sim-plicity of line and detail as fitting and proper for the incor- poreal and transcendent Being they worshipped. Indeed, the lan-guage of the vaulted space they achieved speaks of eternity that so gripped the medieval mind, and evokes the mystery of God's ways to humankind.
It remains today as one of the noblest places of worship to be found anywhere in the world. A western traveler can enter the serene space, kneel in Christian prayer, and with unshod feet walk among the pillars where in the eleventh century al-Ghazali came to pray. Beneath the richly-carpeted floor is the location of a sacred enclosure where in the first century pagan worshippers entered a temple of Jupiter, which in the fourth century was transformed into the Church of St. John the Baptist, and which in the eighth century made way for the present mosque.80 A few remnants of the church have survived. Over the lintel of the south entrance can be seen an inscription in Greek from the Psalms and Hebrews: "Thy kingdom, oh Christ, is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth for all generations."81
We are reminded of our debt to the past: the foundation laid by the Greeks, who were our first teachers; the ancient Hebrews, who gave the world monotheism and invented the idea of creatio ex nihilo; the cosmopolitan Arabs, who assimilated and transmitted ancient learning; the Christians of the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, who learned from their Greek masters and from their Jewish and Muslim forebears.
After departing Damascus, al-Ghazali visited Hebron, a place of pilgrimage for Muslims, where he paid his respects at the tomb of Abraham and Sarah, and which is sacred also to Jews and Christians. He visited Jerusalem, soon to fall into crusader hands, and made the Hajj to Mecca. After some years, he returned to Nishapur, in his native Persia, for more writing and reflection on the timeless issues of faith and reason. Likely his route led him past the tomb of ibn Sina, which can be seen today in the city of Hamadan, in southwest Iran.
The first sixteen discussions of Al-Ghazali's book, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, were translated into Latin in A.D. 1328, in France, as part of the work entitled, Destructio Destructionum.82 Gradually al-Ghazali's views made their mark in the Latin West, although their exact impact in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance is unknown. Thomas Aquinas, who died in A.D. 1274, did not see the Destructio Destructionum, although he was introduced to Islamic thought as a teen-aged student in Naples, where he had access to Arabic sources.83 An edition of the Destructio Destructionum was printed in 1497 in Venice, and was reprinted three times in the sixteenth century in Lyons. A Latin translation, made from a previous Hebrew translation, was printed in Vienna in 1532.84 Various Arabic editions were published during subsequent centuries. At last in 1954 there appeared the splendid English translation by the Dutch orientalist, Simon van den Bergh, the edition on which this study was based.85 As for the Nizamiyah College, it remained in service until the beginning of the sixteenth century, and a surviving portion of a minaret was identified as such in 1939.86
It is pertinent here to notice the flexibility of Islam with respect to the doctrine of creation. Thus we have the striking contrast of al-Ghazali and ibn Sina, both of whom considered themselves as representing the correct interpretation of both the Qur'an and Aristotelian thought, and they were both considered by their peers to be good Muslims, which of course they both were.
Al-ghazali And The Origins Of Science
Among the blessings that come from living in the West may be included the fact that the tides of history surged west, from Baghdad and Cairo, to Salerno, to Toledo, to the cathedral schools of France. Indeed, the question remains whether the Renaissance might have been delayed or even aborted had not the western mind been quickened by contact with the Muslim Middle East.
Biological evolution, that is, the origin of diversity from simpler forms, was utterly inconceivable in the Aristotelian world; as inconceivable as it would have been for an eleventh century astronomer to reject the Aristotelian circle in describing the revolutions of the celestial bodies. Changes could occur, yes, but only as an actualization of an already existing potentiality; that is, by a bringing forth of what was already there. But novelty, something entirely new, such as a brand-new species or phylum, was not conceivable. The theory of biological evolution emerged at last in the eighteenth century; it required chance, contingency, linear time, and non-repeatable change, all provided by a created world, all, in varying degree, to be found within the conceptual orientation provided by the three monotheistic religions.87
The place of al-Ghazali in the rise of modern science is distinct and of consequence. It lies in his opposition to major portions of Aristotelian thought and that by means of his theistic affirmation of creation. For him, creation meant a coming into being; the creation was an expression of the divine will; for him, coming into being meant that the creation was separate from the creator. By his affirmation of creation and rejection of eternality he helped to lodge an ineluctable doubt at the heart of Aristotelian thought.
This affirmation, invented by the Maccabees in about 63 B. C., was taken up by Islam from Judaism and Christianity and was applied against Aristotle. Thus transformed, this affirmation of faith was bequeathed by Islam to Christianity in the later Middle Ages, to become integral to the rise of science during the Renaissance.88 Thus we see that in al-Ghazali, the Islamic opposition to Aristotle in effect preceded the opposition mounted by Christian theology.89
When the shadows began to lengthen, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali set out once again across the desert, not far this time, to his childhood home in northeastern Persia, whence his pilgrimage began. In A.D. 1111, in his native village of Ghazaleh, near the city of Meshed, with his brother and a few students at his side, he died, and was buried near the grave of the Persian poet Firdausi and not far from the tomb of the 'Abassid Caliph, Harun al-Rashid.
In the influence of his philosophy on Islamic theology, he completed the structure of Sunni orthodoxy that has prevailed over much of the Muslim world to this day.90 In the influence of his religious experience on his readers he has been compared with Augustine. Al-Ghazali became an appealing figure in the West; his much admired spiritual pilgrimage from erudition to mysticism mirrored a painful choice between reason and faith.91
The greatest theologian of Islam, the Muslim closest to being a Christianˇsuch are the accolades that thoughtful students of Arab history are wont to heap on this remarkable and intense figure.92 He was an Aristotelian. But he was possessed of the conviction that he was not from eternity, but that his destiny was eternal. Above all, he was a Muslim, one who strives and submits; a follower of Islam, the religion of submission. For him, the god of the philosophers was not the God of the Qur'an.
Throughout his life he strove to express the meaning of the Muslim confession: "La Ilaha illa AllahˇThere is no God but God." Perhaps we might agree with Kenneth Cragg, Arabist and Christian friend of Islam, who allowed that, in the end, al-Ghazali might have achieved the cry of the one who was called the Friend of God: "Whom have I in heaven save thee?"93
Who of us can say this Muslim seeker did not succeed?
I was introduced to Islam and to the riches of the Arabic science and culture of the Middle Ages by Edwin and Eleanor Calverley, long-time Presbyterian missionaries in Kuwait: Dr. Edwin E. Calverley, Arabist, clergyman, and student and translator of al-Ghazali; and Mrs. Eleanor Calverley, M.D., specialist in ophthalmology.94 It was in the Astra Cafe, across the street from the American University at Cairo, where in September 1954 I had come to teach biology, where the scales commenced to fall as they cheerfully traced out for me on a paper napkin the Arabic letters for Astra I noticed in a nearby neon sign, and where from them I first heard utterance of al-Ghazali. Cherished friends in the years that followed and indulgent observers of my Arabic studies, they were a link for me with the days of two once-celebrated Arabists in Cairo, the historian of medicine, Max Meyerhof, and the Christian missionary, Samuel Zwemer, and with the former Emir of Kuwait, a link indeed with the household of Islam of the past.
I am also grateful to Don and Tex Swanjord, long-time friends, Arabists and sojourners in Kuwait City and Baghdad, who are for me a link with the present-day dar al-Islam. A long distance call brings me up-to-date on a puzzling point in Arab history or help in running to ground a needed citation. In addition, James R Moore has often given me valuable insights and comments concerning this project; so also has Marjorie Behringer provided encouragement on numerous occasions. I am also grateful to Atiah Althobaity; David N Barlow; Keith Lencho; Frank E Miller; Ali Reza, MD; and Amir Sanati, MD, for their comments on matters both syntactical and Islamic.
I had the honor of participating in a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar on "Islam and the Scientific Tradition" at Columbia University in the summer of 1993. I am grateful to George Saliba, Chairman of the Department of Middle East Languages and Culture at Columbia University and Director of the seminar, and to fellow participants, among them Ali Akbar Mahdi, William E Carroll, and Edward M Macierowski, for making useful comments on the issues raised in this paper. The seminar was a wonderful and timely opportunity; it provided a congenial setting for enlightening discussions of Islam.
From first to last I should have been nowhere without the splendid translation by the orientalist Simon van den Bergh of Averroes' Tahafut al-Tahafut, which contains major sections of al-Ghazali's Incoherence of the Philosophers and also extensive footnotes, and which provided contented hours during the last ten years or so, making this study possible.
1For the background of al-Ghazali's life and thought I have consulted: Cragg, 1956. Diyab, in Young, 1990. Faris, 1985. Hitti, 1971 (1968). MacDonald, 1899. Marmura, 1992. Rosenthal, 1962. Watt, 1960; 1963; 1985 (1962). And Zwemer, 1920. I follow Hitti and the Encyclopaedia of Islam for the spelling of his name, and for transliterations throughout. See also MacDonald, 1902.
2It would appear that the human head has resisted the notion that the world had a beginning even until recent years, at least within the scientific community. In the year 1931 the astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington confessed: "Philosoph-ically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to me. I am simply stating the dilemma to which our present fundamental conception of physical law leads us. I see no way around it; but whether future developments of science will find an escape I cannot predict." From an address reprinted by Shapley, 1950, p 361. The "Big Bang" offered no escape from Eddington's dilemma.
3See Aulie, 1972; 1974-75; 1982; 1983.
4Oxford English Dictionary, 1933, Vol. 9, p 222; in 1857 and 1867. The term "natural philosophy was used in the 17th and 18th centuries.
5The number of Muslims worldwide: 950,726,000; World Almanac, 1993, p 718.
6Marmura, 1992, p 206.
7Much is known about the Nizamiyah College. The definitive study seems to be: Talas, 1939. See also Dodge, 1973; Makdisi, 1961; Le Strange, 1900; and #83 infra. The "Sunni" (meaning model or path) is the larger of the two population divisions of Islam, and recognizes the first four caliphs (successor)ˇAbu-Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman, and 'Aliˇas the legitimate successors of Muhammad. The other, the "Shi'ah" (meaning "party of 'Ali"), repudiated the first three caliphs, and instead recognized 'Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law, as the sole legitimate caliph after Muhammad's death, and, as did Sunni Islam, developed its own legal and religious doctrines.
8Students at Balogna were first granted special rights in A.D. 1158.
9In the Qur'an David has the title of khalifa; see 38.27. Baghdad was founded as the so-called "Round City" in A.D. 762 by the Caliph Al-Mansur, after the fall of the Umayyad dynasty in A.D. 749 (see #78 infra). On the 'Abassid Caliphate, see Hitti, 1956, passim; Hourani, 1990, passim; Saliba, 1988; and Sourdel, 1970. Much is known about the city during the heyday of the 'Abbasidsˇits founding, dimensions, population, neigh-borhoods, and the like; and early maps have survived. The name Baghdad is pre-Islamic and Iranian, and means "given by God, the gift of God." See Duri, 1960, which contains an extensive bibliography; Le Strange, ibid; Le Strange, 1900a; Lassner, 1970; and the rather good Wiet, 1971. For a splendid 18th-century description and with a city map, see: Niebuhr, 1776-1780.
10The Seljuks entered Baghdad in A.D. 1055; Leiser, 1988, p 42. For a summary of the Seljuks, see also Hitti, 1956 (1937), p 473-479; and Spuler, 1970, I, p 143-171.
11The dream story has a reputable lineage in the Arabic litera ture: Hitti, 1956 (1937), p 310; Elgood, 1951, p 103; and Nicholson, 1956, p 359. A fine interpretation of this remarkable leader is: "Al-Ma'mun: Radical Caliph and Intellectual Awakener of Islam," in Hitti, 1971 (1968), p 76-94.
12Mackenson, 1932; Makdisi, 1961.
13Bosworth, 1963; Rosen, 1986; Karpinski, 1915; Hitti 1956, p 379-380; Gandz, 1926; Toomer, 1973; and for a lucid analysis of the al-jabr, see Boyer, 1985, p 251-258. The full title of his algebra is: Al-Kitab al-Mukhtasar fi hisab al jabr wa'l-muqabala" (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing.)
14For the Nestorian Christians, see Wolfson, 1970 (1956), p 451- 463. Griffith, in Elwell, 1984. And Vine, 1937.
15See Anawati and Iskandar, 1978; Meyerhof, 1936; and Saliba, 1989.
16Hunain ibn Ishaq wrote the first textbook of ophthalmology; see Meyerhof, 1928. See also; Fakhry, Majid, 1983 (1970), p 10, 12; Elgood, 1951, p 70, 75, 89, 100, 267-269; Hitti, 1956, 1956 (1937), p 313-364; Meyerhof, 1944, and O'Leary, 1957 (1949).
17After all, Eratosthenes had calculated the circumference of the Earth a thousand years before, Al-Ma'mun might have said to himself, so why shouldn't he? Available to him were two important astronomical instruments, the quadrant and the astrolabe. A member of his staff, 'Ali al-Asturlabi, wrote a treatise on the astrolabe (see Hartner, 1960). About that time, the astronomer Muhammad ibn-Jabir al-Battani found the inclination of the plane of the ecliptic to the celestial equator to be 23o33'; the obliquity, which is undergoing slight change, is taken today to be 23o27', so the Arab calculations were not too bad. See Sarton, 1927, I, p 558, Asturlabi: p 566. O'Leary, 1957, in a discussion of al-Ma'mun, says the observations occurred near Mosul and also near Damascus; p 163. See also Dreyer, 1953 (1905), p 249,250,278; Hitti, 1956 (1937), p 374-375; and Saliba, 1982.
18Since Islamic theology is my primary emphasis in this study, Arabic mathematics, medicine, and science must remain beyond the scope of this short paper, except for my brief digressions on algebra and astronomy. In this context, I use "Arabic" generically to mean those who spoke and wrote Arabic, who lived under Muslim rule, and who included Arabs, Persians, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sabians, Zoroastrians, and assorted Moon-worshippers. Sometimes "Islamic" is also used in this generic sense. For a survey of the sciences, see: Goldstein, 1988, 1988, Chapter 4, "The Gift of Islam." Hitti, 1956 (1937), Chapter 27, "Scientific and Literary Progress"; the Hitti remains an invaluable source of detailed information. The recent Hourani, 1990 is a masterful complement to, but does not supersede, the Hitti 1956. Also reliable are: Arnold and Guillaume, editors, 1960 (1931), "Science and Medicine," by Max Meyerhof; Browne, 1985; Jurji, in: Faris, 1985 (1944). and Elgood, 1951; the title, A Medical History of Persia, means the strong Persian influence, though primarily under the government of the 'Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad (ca. A.D. 750-1258). For mathematics: Boyer, 1985 (1968), Chapter 13, "The Arabic Hegemony"; Hill, 1915; and Karpinski, 1915. To find out who was who among Jews in Arabic mathematics, medicine, and science, one might start with George Sarton, 1927, I, p 543-788, 587-588, passim. Eban, Abba, 1984 (1968), Chapter 11, "The Age of Islam"; in this period, "the Jews not only retained their ancestral creed but gained new strength in the lands of the Moslem conquest"; p 132. Two views on why modern science did not begin among the Arabs: see Sarton, 1927, I, p 746-748; and Jaki, 1974, Chapter 9, "Delay in Detour."
19In this sentence I refer to the "Mu'tazilites," who were among the first Arab thinkers to embrace Hellenism and Aristotelianism. Their school of thought began in the city of Basra, in what is now southern Iraq, in the early decades of the eighth century A.D. How then, one might ask, did they learn about Aristotle a full century before the first Greek manuscript was translated into Arabic? I don't know. One of its leaders, a certain Wasil ibn 'Ata, withdrew from participating in a theological dispute to form a group of his own, hence the name of the creed, "al-Mu'tazilah," meaning withdrawal. The dispute concerned the question of whether a Muslim who was an especially heinous sinner could still be a Muslim. The Mu'tazilites emphasized the oneness of Allah, denied that God had attributes and that the Qur'an was eternal, and they developed strong views about divine justice and free will. A hundred years later, the 'Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun raised this creed to a state religion (a period, in approximately A.D. 833-850, sometimes called the 'inquisition') and proclaimed that the Qur'an was created; the effect was to draw more political power to those who could properly interpret the Qur'an, namely himself and the 'ulema, or religious leaders, who were under his control. If the Qur'an were represented as uncreated, and hence eternal, I suppose it would have been thought to be less open to interpretation, whereupon al-Ma'mun's political adversaries might invoke the eternal Qur'an to weaken his power. See Fakhry, 1983 (1970), passim. Watt, 1973, Mu'tazilism: p 178, 209-250. Watt, 1985 (1962), Chapter 8: "The Mu'tazilites." As 'Abbasid influence waned so did Mu'tazilism, to survive in certain aspects of Shi'ism today. All the same, Mu'tazilite insistence on the absolute otherness and oneness of God led Muslims to a useful system of negations in describing God, such as "...he is not a body, has no colour, no limit...," a system useful to Christians as well; Watt, 1973, p 246-247.
20I refer here to the followers of the theologian abu'l'Hasan 'Ali ibn'Ismail al'Ash'ari (ca. A.D. 873-950), also of Basra, whose teachings led more directly to orthodox theological scholasticism (sometimes called the Kalam). Al'Ash'ari reduced the emphasis on Aristotelianism; and affirmed that God has attributes and that the Qur'an was eternal. Al-Ghazali, in emphasizing the divine will, opposed Mu'tazilism, and favored Ash'arism, which became incorporated into Sunni orthodoxy, as it is known today. See Fakhry, 1983, passim; Watt, 1985 (1962), Chapter 12: "The Progress of Ash'arite Theology."
21For an appreciation of how Islam, Judaism, and Christianity during the Middle Ages transformed the Aristotelian concept of God into the commonalities in our respective understandings of God, I suggest: Burrell, 1986. On the theology of Islam, including Ash'arism and Mu'tazilism, see: Rahman, 1987. For a Christian interpretation of Islam, see the aforementioned: Cragg, 1956. And his subsequent books, such as, 1959; 1973; 1978; 1984; 1985. Also noteworthy in the voluminous literature is: Woodberry, 1989.
22Van den Bergh, 1978 (1969, 1954), translator and editor, Averro╬s' Tahafut l'Tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence). This book contains large sections of al-Ghazali's, Tahafut al-Falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), to which the Averro╬s work, in about A.D. 1244, was a reply. This splendid edition was reviewed by Zedler, 1956. See also Macdonald, 1928., for a review of the Arabic edition by Maurice Bouyges, S.J., xxx, 448 p., Beirut, 1927 (Bibliotheca Arabica Scholasticorum).
23Gruner, 1930. Elgood, 1951, Chapter 7, "Avicenna and Rhazes." Translations of ibn Sina's works on philosophy and theology are in short supply. I have employed the following: Afnan, 1980 (1958); Morewedge, 1973; and Arberry, 1979, with translations, such as "On the Nature of God." I cannot improve on Arberry's assessment; ibid., p 6-7: "To read Avicenna on theology, is to be aware of standing in the presence of one of the profoundest and most courageous thinkers in history. He was a Muslim, and the crown of his achievement as a speculative philosopher was to extend Aristotelian metaphysics, as interpreted by the Hellenistic commentators, so as to embrace the fundamental doctrines and practices of the religion he professed. His arguments required but little elaboration to adapt them to an equally powerful defence of basic Christianity and Judaism."
24Van den Bergh, p xiii, 311.
25For my Aristotle, I use the elegant edition: Barnes, 1984; and when I have not the elegant Barnes, I fall back on the steadfast McKeown, 1941. Aristotle gets down to business on the eternality of the world and celestial motion in the 8th book of the Physics, in which he argues that celestial motion is circular and eternal and therefore required an eternal, unmoved mover; typically: VIII,6,258b,10-12: "Since there must always be motion without intermission, there must necessarily be something eternal, whether one or many, that first imparts motion, and this first mover must be unmoved"; VIII,6,259a,7-8: "Motion, then, being eternal, the first mover, if there is but one, will be eternal also." Also in the Metaphysics, e.g., XII,7,1072a,24-26; and 8,1073a, 27-28: "eternal movement must be produced by something eternal." Apparently Aristotle wanted to be on the safe side because before he finished Book 8 of the Physics he saw fit to reverse this argument: VIII,6,259b,32-33: "if there is always something of this nature, a mover that is itself unmoved and eternal, then that which is first moved by it must also be eternal."
26At times Aristotle could use plain language; this, from Heavens, II,1,283b,22-23; similarly: I,3,270b,14-16.
27In Van den Bergh, quote: p 69. Al-Ghazali examined four different so-called proofs (p 1, 37-56, 57, 58-59), derived from Aristotle, for the eternality of the world, and found them all wanting: (A) A created world would have required a decision to create, which would have meant a change, or cause, in the unchanging mind of God, and for this cause required a prior cause, in fact, an infinite series of causes, which is impossible. I can't find this argument expressly in Aristotle, unless it is in the Physics VIII, Chapter 6, passim; but Van den Bergh (notes p 1) says it does come from Avicenna, who, of course, leaned on Aristotle; but I can't find it in the translations of Avicenna by Arberry and Morewedge, either. (B) If the world were created, "how can there be any before and after without the existence of time?"; Physics, Book VIII,1,251b,10-11; and also the Metaphysics XII,6,1071b,8-9; and involves Aristotle's concepts of priority and posteriority. (C) Since nothing can be eternally possible, declared Aristotle, in the Metaphysics IX,8,1050b,7-8, whatever is possible in eternity is actual; possibility and existence coincide in eternity, and therefore the world, being possible in eternity, is actual and eternal. And anyway, (D) an absolute becoming is impossible, since anything that becomes, comes from something; e.g., 1069b, 35, passim.
28Even as early as A.D. 830, when al-Ma'mun founded his transla tion center in Baghdad, Muslim scholars were beginning to wrestle with such concepts as "not from something," in Arabic la min shay; and "from the nonexistent," or min al-ma'dum, which may have come from Syrian Christiansˇwho were Arab Christians living in Syria; and both of which concepts were derived from Greek sources; and whether one or the other of these two concepts, according to the Qur'an, could mean nothing or whether Allah had acted on a Platonic antemundane matter. How Syrian Christians and Arab and Persian Muslims coped with these ideas is discussed fully in: Wolfson, Harry Austryn, 1976, Philosophy of the Kalam, p 354-372.
29The passages in the Qur'an that vexed the Aristotelian Muslims by dealing with creation are Surahs 2.118,165; 10.4,7; 11.8; 13.17; 39.6; 41.10-13; 52.36; and 55.11. Wolfson summarized the interpretations of these passages in "Creation of the World," in: 1976, ibid. (Kalam), passim.
30Al-Ghazali possibly did mean "out of nothing," although, as far as I can see, he did not use those words. This formula was expressed as de nihilo first by the Christian apologist, Tertulian, in A.D. 207; see Wolfson, ibid. (Kalam), p 356. Similar expressions were used by other church leaders of antiquity, who insisted that God created matter out of nothing. Douglas V. McNeel, of San Antonio, Texas, has observed recently that Basil also cherished this view; I am grateful for the opportunity to read his manuscript: "The scientist as the priest of creation: Saint Basil's fourth century vision of the relationship between theology and science." Where our formula, creatio ex nihilo, came from, I have no idea, although the concept is clearly of Hebrew origin (see #77, 78 infra); nor do I know whether it was even known per se by Muslim theologians. Naturally I consulted Wolfson, but he didn't say; 1979 (1973), I, p 207-211: "The Meaning of Ex Nihilo in the Church Fathers, Arabic and Hebrew Philosophy, and St. Thomas." But Wolfson makes the sensible point that, whatever the interpretation of creatio, whether with Neoplatonic emanations or without, the doctrine of creation meant opposition to Aristotle.
31In Van den Bergh, p 8-9, 17, 18, and 49, al-Ghazali takes up the question of infinite numbers. More than likely he was thoroughly familiar with the Arabic editions of the Metaphysics, Book XIII, especially chapters 8-10; the Physics, Book III, chapters 4-7; and also Heavens, I.2; in which Aristotle undertakes to help us with finite numbers, infinity, and infinite numbers.
32When al-Ghazali wrote his Tahafut (Incoherence), several Arabic translations of Ptolemy's Almagest were available to him. "Almagest" is the English rendering of the Arabic rendering, al-Majisti, of a Greek word meaning the greatest. Hitti, 1956 (1937), p 310-312, 373; O'Leary, 1957 (1949), p 158; and Sarton, 1927, I, p 562, 565.
33Van den Bergh, p 9, for planetary revolutions.
34In the 2nd century B.C., Hipparchus, the astronomical observer, estimated the change in longitude of the fixed stars to be about 1o per century, or 36" annually, hence the figure of 36,000 years that al-Ghazali used for a complete rotation around the Earth. This phenomenon is the precession of the equinoxes, which precede their positions in earlier epochs, that is, the slow westward drift of constellations along the ecliptic; or the apparent circle traced by the Earth's axis, presently toward Polaris ( Ursae Minoris) and eventually toward Vega, so that the equinoxes precede their positions in earlier epochs; like a spinning top with its axis tilted. In A.D. 127-151, Ptolemy, the great astronomer and mathematician of antiquity, adopted Hipparchus' figure of 36" annually when he described the geocentric system, in his Mathematical Composition, known today as the Almagest, with which al-Ghazali was quite familiar in its Arabic translation; see Book 7, p 227, 230, 233 in Ptolemy (1984). Arab astronomers obtained increasingly more accurate figures. Here I assume the Julian Calendar, and my calculations, though not exempt from error, bring out the prowess of the Arab astronomers. The renowned Baghdad astronomer, Muhammad al-Battani (died A.D. 929), obtained 1o in 66 years, or 54.55" per annum, or 23,841 years for a complete rotation. Ibn Yunus (died A.D. 1009) obtained the still more accurate figure of 1o in 70 years, or 51.43" per annum, for a rotation in 25,175 years. This compares favorably with the present-day figure of about 50.27" per annum, or about 25,787 years for a complete rotation. It is curious that al-Ghazali relied on Ptolemy when he had up-to-date figures at hand for his example; the Arab astronomers of his day had really made Ptolemy's computation in this case rather out-of-date. But then, 36" made for easy arithmetic in al-Ghazali's example, and he correctly derived his revolutions. From the Almagest, VII,1-2. For a passage from Ptolemy on the precession, see Cohen and Drabkin, 1958, p 115-117, and 115 footnote; Bowditch, 1977, I, p 24-25, 362; and Dreyer, 1953 (1905), p 276-279.
35Van den Bergh, p 9.
36Among Aristotle's numerous asseverations on the infinite, see Metaphysics, XIII, 8, 1084a 2-3: "infinite number is neither odd nor even"; in Physics, III, 5, 204a, 25-26: "a part of the infinite would be infinite"ˇby which he meant that if an infinite were cut in two, each "half" would still be infinite; and similarly, in Physics, VIII, 8,263a,7: "it is impossible to traverse distances infinite in number," meaning that an infinite number cannot be counted. And, in the Heavens, I,5,272a,3: "the infinite cannot be traversed."
37John Philoponus of Alexandria, in about A.D. 530, possibly mounted the first confrontation between Christianity and Aristotelian cosmology. See Wildberg, 1987; and Sorabji, 1987. The brilliant Philoponus argued against the Aristotelian 5th element (the aether: Heavens,I,3,270b,22-25), and the eternality of the world; and argued instead that motion was caused by an "impetus" that God implanted into moving bodies, that heavenly bodies were composed of the same materials as the Earth, and that the world was created. See the excellent analysis by Sambursky, 1987 (1962), p 154-165: "John Philoponus and his Conception of the Universe." It can be inferred that al-Ghazali read Philoponus in Arabic translation from the fact that Maimonides, in the 12th century, said that John the Grammarian, meaning Philoponus, had been translated into Arabic; Guide for the Perplexed, 1956 (Dover edition), p 109. See Davidson, 1969, p 89, 357-392. And Macierowski and Hessing, 1988.
38 Wolfson, 1976, p 416-434. One can scarcely make headway in studies of this sort without the splendid Wolfson books, which explain all, his distressing syntax, notwithstanding.
39Van den Bergh, p 38. For the Islamic view of time see: Whitrow, 1989, p 77-80. The Muslim calendar began in A.D. 622, the year of Muhammad's flight to Medina. Muhammad ibn-Ahmad al-Biruni (AD 973-1048), the Muslim scholar of eleventh-century Afghanistan, in his The Chronology of Ancient Nations, C. Edward Sachau, translator and editor, 1879, p 33-36, explained why: Omar Khayyam decided that the exact date of the Prophet's birth (ca AD 570) was too fraught with uncertainty to be employed as the start of the Muslim epoch, and so instead he chose the Hijrah in AD 622 as the year 1.
40Van den Bergh, p 39; also p 38. Samuel Zwemer listed some forty respectful references that al-Ghazali made to Jesus, in a chapter entitled, "Jesus Christ in al-Ghazali"; 1920, passim. For an Islamic view of the trinity, see "Trinity and Incarnation," in Wolfson, 1976, p 304-309.
41Van den Bergh, p 42. The ancients had much to say about time. In his elaborate discussion, in the Physics, Book IV, Chapters 10-14, typically in 12,221b,7, Aristotle said: "Time is the measure of motion"; and in 14,223a, 18-19, that time "is an attribute, or state, of movement." Augustine thought so, too; Confessions, XI.23: "It is by time that we measure the movement of bodies"; although we don't know whether Augustine read Aristotle. In the end, Aristotle gave up and said it was all in the mind; Physics 223a, 22-23: "Whether if soul did not exist time would exist or not, is a question that may fairly be asked." And Augustine apparently was of the same mind; Confessions, XI, 27: "It is in my own mind, then, that I measure time." See: Ormsby, in Burrell and McGinn, 1990. For two views of time, the Aristotelian and independence of motion, see: Capek, 1987.
42Van den Bergh, p 41.
43Ibid., p 42.
44Ibid., p 46-48, 51. Physics, IV,4,212a,20-21: "the innermost motionless boundary of what contains is place"(sic). Heavens, I,9,279a,12-13,18: "There is also no place or void or time outside the heaven"; IV,1,308a,18,23-24:"that there is no up and no down in the heaven, is absurd...since the universe has an extremity and a centre, it musta clearly have an up and down." Also Categories, 6a,11-18.
45Loc. cit. For a fascinating analysis of how Aristotle's view of "space" was modified through the centuries by the Judaeo-Christian view of space, which is derived from biblical passages, see Jammer, 1953. Aristotle's "place"ˇthe space within a containing body, becomes space that is an attribute of God, a reality separate from matter; e.g., Deut. 4.39; 33.27; Ps. 90.1.
46Van den Bergh, p 24.
47George Sarton claimed that the ninth sphere was invented by Thabit ibn Qurra, a brilliant Sabian astronomer, from Haran, who was employed in Baghdad; 1927, I, p 599-600. But I can find no reference to this in Qurra's own impressive book; see the excellent translation, Morelon, 1987. Dreyer refers to a work by Qurra, "On the motion of the 8th Sphere," which has never been published; 1953, p 276. Likely the ninth sphere was surmised since the time of Hipparchus, but I don't know. Dreyer also reported that the Arabs proposed a tenth sphere to account for a perturbation in the precession, but I think we might let that go; ibid., p 278-279.
48Van den Bergh, p 19. Did Abu Hamid believe that ours is the best of all possible worlds? See Ormsby, 1984.
49 primary motion that causes coming-to-be and passing away, but the motion along the inclined plane"; and 336b,17-18: "coming to be occurs as the sun approaches and decays as it retreats." And Heavens, II,3,286b,5-6: "the reason why there is more than one circular body is the necessity of generation."
50Quote: van den Bergh, p 283; also 263-264. For Avicenna's ruminations on emanations, see Afnan, 1958, Chapter 4, "Problems of Metaphysics"; and Morewedge, p 76-78, and 103-106, "Finding the manner in which things emanate (padid) from the Necessary Existent." Emanations and Neoplatonism are not found in Aristotle, of course, but were invented by the Hellenized Egyptian philosopher, Plotinus, in the 3rd century. See MacKenna, 1969. Wolfson has discussed the subsequent attempts in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism to equate creation ex nihilo with emanations. E.g., around A.D. 450, a certain Dionysius the Areopagite (not the friend of Paul in Acts 17.34), said that ex nihilo meant ex essentia Dei, adding that God "produces substances by an outgoing of essence"; quoted by Wolfson, 1979 (1973), I, p 209. See also Feldman, 1980. On Dionysius, see "Denis the Areopagite" in Gilson, 1955, p 81-85, 597-598, passim. [Al-Ghazali would have been surprised to read what Gilson, in a moment of inattention, said of him: "Algazel was a Christian"; ibid., p 265.] On how these ancient emanations affected later Christian thought, gnosticism, Swedenborg, theosophy, and what not, see: Strong, 1945 (1907), p 383-386.
51On how cause can coincide with its effect, according to ibn Sina, see: Morewedge, 1973, p 41-44, "Finding the Condition of Cause and Effect"; and p 50-53, "Finding the Nature of Contingent Being." Also, in the Arberry translation, p 36, ibn Sina, in commenting on Qur'an 33.62 and 35.41: "...all things having being emanated from Him according to a known order and known media: that which came later cannot be earlier, and that which came earlier cannot be later, for it is He Who causes things to be earlier and later."
52The beauty of Neoplatonism is that you can believe in Genesis 1.1 and Aristotle's Prime Mover at the same time. If the Nicene Creed had not been enunciated, if indeed the Council of Nicaea, in A.D. 325, had not made a clear distinction between the world as coming from nothing and the Word as "begotten not made" from the divine essence, and if in consequence history had assuredly taken a different path, I suppose we might be interpreting Genesis 1.1 today in a context of Neoplatonism. In that case, on Sunday mornings we would be applying the Plotinian scheme to the Nicene Creed, "emanation" would come to our lips rather than "creation from nothing," and we would be agreeing with ibn Sina rather than with al-Ghazali. Augustine seemed to think Plotinus was worth reading, judging from the seven positive references he made to that pleasant pagan in the City of God, in Books 8, 9, and 10 and calling him "the great Platonist" (X,3). I doubt that emanations were taken literally; they were certainly a metaphor, in order to provide the pious with a pattern of behavior and for understanding one's place in God's creation. Muslim theologians, enamored of Neoplatonism, would not suggest that the world actually flowed, or oozed, from the bowels of Allah, just as we cannot conceive of how the world could suddenly appear in a vacuum, even if we could assume a prior existence of a vacuum (a vacuum is not "nothing"), modern physics notwithstanding. Still, the concept of emanations, like creation from nothing, is difficult for the 20th-century mind to grasp. Emanations did not flow like a river, nor were they intermittent; nor did they occur in time, for they were eternal; yet they were a continuous nexus between the unchanging divine and the changing natural. Much food for thought on these matters can be found in the aforementioned Burrell and McGuinn, 1990, particularly the three essays, Burrell, "Creation or Emanation: Two Paradigms of Reason"; Rahman, "Ibn Sina's Theory of the God-World Relationship"; Goodman, "Three Meanings of the Idea of Creation"; and also, of course, Wolfson, passim.
53Van den Bergh, quote: p 96; p 89, 92, 95, 96.
54Loc. cit., p 96.
55When the learned among Jews, Christians, and Muslims sought language to express what they meant when they said they worshiped "one God"; and inasmuch as the declaration that God is "one" is stated only rarely in both the Bible (e.g., Mark 12.29,32; John 10.30) and the Qur'an (e.g., Surahs 4.172; 5.74; 6.20); likely at one time or another they would have consulted what Aristotle had to say concerning the unity and incorporeality of God; e.g., Physics, VIII,6,259a,14-15: "the first mover must be something that is one and eternal"; and 10,266a,10-11: "the first mover must be without parts and without magnitude." Early on, the learned would have pondered Aristotle's statement in Metaphysics XII,8,1074a,33-34: "all things that are many in number have matter," and they would have profited from the effort. Here I suggest another Wolfson book: 1962 (1934), The Philosophy of Spinoza, I, Chapter 4, "Unity of Substance," and Chapter 5, "Simplicity of Substance." On incorporeality, Wolfson, observing that neither the Bible nor the Qur'an expressly describe God as "incorporeal," traced this attribute to the first century Jewish Philosopher, Philo Judaeus, in: 1947, Philo, Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, vol. 2, p 94-101, 149-164. Further to plurality in the essence of God, Wolfson, 1973 (Kalam), p 112-132, developed the argument that the Muslim doctrine of divine attributes was derived from the Christian doctrine of the trinity. In discussions with Arabic-speaking Christians, the three distinct though immaterial "hypostases" (but one "ousia"), meaning Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, were deemed to correspond with the triadˇexistence, wisdom, and powerˇthat Muslims recognize as divine attributes of Allah. Said Tertulian, the second century Christian priest of Carthage: "unity of substance not singularity of number"; quoted by Wolfson, ibid., (Kalam), p 327.
56Van den Bergh, p 124; also 175, 300, 259-260. Avicenna: "The Necessary Existent cannot contain a multiplicity as though it were composed of many elements, as a man's body consists of many parts"; "The Necessary Existent is a knower of its own essence"; "...there can be a knower of many things without admitting multiplicity in this knower"; Morewedge, p 53, 61, 62. Avicenna also said: "God has knowledge of His Essence. He knows all things by virtue of one knowledge"; passim; Arberry, p 33. Avicenna: "God knows everything, only in a universal way; still no single thing, not even the weight of an atom, is hidden from Him (according to the Koran xxxiv. 3; x.62). This is something very wonderful, the understanding of which needs great intellectual subtlety"; and one is inclined to agree with Avicenna; quoted by van den Bergh, notes p 150.
57From the Metaphysics, XII,7,1072b,20-21,22: "thought thinks itself because it shares the nature of the object of thought." But then, in chapter 9 Aristotle had to acknowledge that his view of God was not altogether attractive; 1074b, 15: "The nature of the divine thought involves certain problems." Ibn Sina maintained that the "Necessary Existent," or God, knew many things, albeit in a universal way, whatever that meant, without being changed; see Morewedge, p 59-62. Also, Marmura, 1962. Said Augustine, in Trinity, XV,22: "We see the things which you have made, because they exist. But they only exist because you see them." And Aquinas, in Summa Theologica, I, Q.14,art.8: "The knowledge of God is the cause of things." See also MacKenna, 1969, Enneads, V.9.5. Aristotle was onto something, I should think.
58Van den Bergh, Zaid: p 277. God knows individuals besides universals, also p 121-124.
59Ibid., p 124. On whether al-Ghazali believed that God is knowable, see Shehadi, 1964.
60In attempting to solve the problem of divine knowledge, Averroes, in his reply to al-Ghazali in his Incoherence of the Incoherence, and Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed, argued instead that God's knowledge is totally unlike human knowledge.
61Ibid., p 121.
62Ibid., p 149. Ptolemy, stars, p 259; the star catalogue on p 234-259.
63Van den Bergh, p 149. Al-Ghazali must have been thinking of the zodiac and its constellations; for a ram, bull, a lion, and a man likely he meant the constellations Aries, Taurus, Leo; and possibly Orion, Bootes, or Perseus. But these groups of stars are on the plane of the ecliptic.
64Ibid., p 151-152; quote: p 152.
65Ibid., p 263-268. Here al-Ghazali again defended the proposi tion that God's acts are voluntary; in effect he disagreed with Plotinus.
66Ibid., p 316.
67Posterior Analytics, I,4,73a,21; Nicomachean Ethics, VI,3,1139b,23-24.
68Van den Bergh, op. cit. (#13 supra), p 312-314. I believe this is implicit in ibn Sina; e.g., in the Morewedge translation, op. cit. p 41: "...when one imagines the cause as an existent in the world, it becomes necessary for the effect to exist also...," passim.
69Van den Bergh, p 312.
70Van den Bergh, p 313.
71Ibid., p 316-317.
72Ibid., p 316.
73The ambitious reader might decide for himself after consulting the extensive analysis by Goodman, 1978. Also useful is his detailed exposition, 1971.
74The nineteenth-century Arabist, Ernst Renan, seemed to think so, in 1861, in his pivotal Averro╬s et l'Averroisme. Discussing al-Ghazali's critique of causality, he thought the result was plain, p 97: "C'╚tait, on le voit, la n╚gation de toute science." Laws of nature no longer existed, he declared, and he wrote, with some satisfaction, one thinks, "Hume n'a rien dit de plus." I agree with Sarton, 1927, I, p 747: "Al-Ghazali was too noble and broad an intellect to be accused of obscurantism."
75Van den Bergh, p 156-169, "The Fourth Discussion."
76Ibid., p 253.
77Most writers, such as in #1 supra, go in for the spiritual transformation. Others, though, rather like a "psychosomatic illness," "a nervous breakdown," or possibly "he even went mad"; referred to by Ormsby, p 255, in "Creation in Time in Islamic Thought with Special Reference to al-Ghazali," in Burrell and McGinn, editors, 1990.
78For the materials in this section I rest on the sources cited in #1 supra, and for the facts and dates of nine centuries ago I choose those that seem reasonable and supportable.
79The Umayyad mosque was built in A.D. 706-714 by the Umayyad Caliph 'Abdul al-Malik I, and is described in much detailˇits history, with excellent diagrams and photographsˇby Creswell, 1958, Chapter 3, "Works of Al-Walid"; and Doag, 1977 (1975), Chapter 2, "Umayyad Architecture," especially p 22-27. 'Abd-al-Malik also helped to establish, in A.D. 691, the magnificent Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The Umayyads are named for Mu'awiyah who founded in Damascus the line of 13 caliphs that formed the first dynasty in Islam, in A.D. 661-750. The split between Shi'ah and Sunni Islam (see #3 supra) occurred during this time.
80My metaphor would have been precise had my pagan temple been Greek, instead of Roman. All the same, my point, made in the next paragraph, I believe stands.
81I have not seen the inscription, not knowing a Umayyad from an 'Abbasid at the time of my visit. But Creswell, a lifelong student of Muslim architecture, said it is there, p 50; and so did Hitti, 1956 (1937), p 222; and I take their word for it.
82Grant, 1981, p 325.
83See Hitti, 1971 (1968), p 164. Aquinas, having died in 1274, probably could not have seen any Latin translation of the Tahafut, as Burrell claimed; 1986, p 89. It is not improbable that an Arabic copy was available, but whether Aquinas had access to one, I do not know. Two other routes of the views that al-Ghazali espoused were possible; one by way of Maimonides, who took account of them in his Guide for the Perplexed, 1956 (Dover)(e.g., in Part II); the other by way of the Latin translation of al-Ghazali's Metaphysics; Muckle, 1933. See also Beaurecueil, 1947; and Zedler, 1961, "Introduction," p 18-31.
84See Grant, p 325, with details of these editions.
85The Catalogue of the British Museum (pre-1955, vol. 166) lists forty entries under his name. Van den Bergh, see # 22 supra. Also: Kamili, 1958; and also an Arabic edition by M. Bouyges in 1930.
86Talas, 1939, p 31-32. The Nizamiyah College was located east of the Tigris, not far from the river. For map of location, see "Baghdad," 1960, Encyclopedia of Islam, facing p 908. Hitti, 1956 (1937), p 310, said that the madrasa was absorbed centuries ago by the nearby Mustansariyya Madrasa (al-Mustansariyya University), which was restored recently by the Iraqi government.
87Thus can be seen the irony when well-meaning church people today accept "creation science." Inevitably their efforts have much in common, not with a biblical faith and world-life view, which they seek, but with an Aristotelian view of nature, which is pre-Christian in origin and which one would think they would wish to eschew.
882 Maccabees 7.28: "look at the sky and the earth; see all that is in them and realize that God made them out of nothing." Written about 63 B.C., from the New English Bible, with the Apocrypha, 1970, the Vulgate of this apt passage would be ex nihilo fecit illa Deus. "Out of nothing," I take it, might not be the only possible translation. Some people today suggest that the "Big Bang" proves creatio ex nihilo; William E Carroll suggests caution; 1988.
89The proposition that the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic doctrine of creation contributed to the rise of science during the Renaissance dates primarily from the publication of the seminal paper by Michael B. Foster in 1934; and reprinted in: Russell, 1979 (1973), p 294-315. Creation means the de-divinization of nature: nature is entirely material, and every natural event must be described as having a local and material antecedent. Thus, creation means that science is possible. The Foster paper, however, is comfortably oblivious of Islam; one leaps blithely from antiquity to the Renaissance. A precursor is the much-quoted passage by Alfred North Whitehead, 1959, p 19: "faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology." But Whitehead, too, forgot the Arabs. Of course, the Incoherence was not yet available. In any case, whoever takes the question seriously should contend with the Foster paper.
90For Sunni and Shi'ah Islam, see #7 supra. For a fuller discussion, see Rahman, 1987. Also Cragg, 1956, p 98, 131-134, passim.
91A tidy al-Ghazali industry is now in operation, one that would have surprised and warmed the heart of the Nizam al-Mulk, who hired him. For a list of al-Ghazali's works and English editions, see Marmura, 1992. New studies also appear: E.g., Littlejohn, 1988. See also, Bello, 1989; Farah, 1984; Field, 1991, on the theory and practice of Sufism; Lazarus-Yafeh, 1975; Qayyum, 1976; Quesem, 1982; Quesem, 1983. 89. For instance, by Fakhry, 1983, p 147; Hitti, 1956, p 431; and by Sarton, 1927, I, p 739.
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