Al-Ghazali’s Argument for the Eternity of the World in Tahafut al-Falasifa (Discussion One, Proofs 1 and 2a) and the Problem of Divine Immutability and Timelessness Introduction



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Conclusion

Al-Ghazali’s kalam cosmological defense for the world’s finite existence proved a challenge for Islamic philosophy, one that even Ibn Rushd was unable to put to rest. In the history of the cosmological argument in Islam, al-Ghazali’s presentation demonstrates a high point. Fakhry concludes that

Al-Ghazali’s major contribution to the discussion of the problem was twofold. In the first place, he brought out in a very forcible way the radical opposition between the teaching of Islam and the Aristotelian conception of the universe developing itself eternally and everlasting; and in the second place, he gave added point to the arguments already advanced by the Mutakallims, by amplifying and perfecting them.95
Nevertheless, this paper has shown that al-Ghazali did not effectively answer the charge of divine immutability. That, in fact, his solution of asserting the timelessness or atemporality of God only served to make the charge more severe.

As a possible solution, this paper suggests that al-Ghazali needed not to deny divine mutability or divine temporality. That, in fact, if he promoted similar positions to the ones outlined above, his argument of the temporal finiteness of the universe would have laid on a more solid foundation.

To say this, however, is not to deny al-Ghazali’s powerful impact on Western philosophy. As Rahman comments

He was thus destined to prove the first and greatest reformer of Sufism, for which at the same time he secured a place in the structure of Islamic orthodoxy. And, what is even more important, he brought the formal, dogmatic formulation of the orthodox kalam into contact with the living religion, thereby revitalizing them and infusing into them the original spirit of Revelation. He thus dealt a powerful blow to pure scholasticism, softened the dogmatic character of the creed and established a vital nerve between the inner and the exterior aspects of religion.96


Al-Ghazali, therefore, is highly commended for his ingenious foray into philosophical arguments in favor of the existence of a finite universe that responds to the actsof a sovereign God.

1 Richard C. Martin, Mark R. Woodman, with Dwi S. Atmaja, Defenders of Reason in Islam: Mu‘tazilism from Medieval School to Modern Symbol (Oxford: Oneworld, 1997) 1, 35.

2 For a fuller biography on al-Ghazali, see Majid Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983) 217-219; and W. Montgomery Watt, Muslim Intellectual: A Study of Al-Ghazali (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1963). Also see al-Ghazali’s biography, Deliverance from Error, Richard Joseph McCarthy, S.J. (ed.) (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1980).

3 For discussion on al-Ghazali life, works, sufism and religious reform, see Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981) 217-233.

4 Watt, Muslim Intellectual, 58.

5 Watt. Muslim Intellectual, 59. Note also that Fazlur Rahman agreed that although al-Ghazali overall rejected the Neoplatonic and Aristotelian philosophies, since they could not provide religious certainty, he did adopt the dualism of body and soul found in sufism. See Fazlur Rahman, Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) 95.

6 Watt, Muslim Intellectual, 59.

7 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, Michael E. Marmura (trans. & ed.) (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2000) 12.

8 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 12.

9 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 2.

10 Watt, Muslim Intellectual, 60.

11 Al-Ghazali also invokes other arguments for the existence of God. Binyamin Abrahamov writes, “the argument from design figures also in the writings of al-Ghazali (d.1111). This argument, says al-Ghazali, being acquired, since it is taught by the Kur’an, shows the right way to know God and achieve certainty with regard to divine matters.” See Binyamin Abrahamov, Al-Kasim B. Ibraham on the Proof of God’s Existence (The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1990) 5.

12 Majid Fakhry, “Classical Islamic Arguments for the Existence of God,” Muslim World 47:1957, 133-145. Fakhry points briefly to the existence of the argument, in two different forms, in philosophers like Aristotle, Ibn Sina, and Ibn Rushd along with a second formulation found in Islamic, Jewish and Christian theologians.

13 See William Lane Craig, The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz (London, Macmillan, 1980).

14 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 27. For a contemporary defense of the kalam cosmological argument, see William Lane Craig, “”The Finitude of the Past and the Existence of God,” in William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993) 3-76.

15 For a clear example of the concept of causality in Islamic philosophy, see Michael E. Marmura, “The Metaphysics of Efficient Causality in Avincenna,” in Michael E. Marmura (ed.), Islamic Theology and Philosophy: Studies in Honor of George F. Hourani (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984) 172-187. Marmura states that while rooted in Aristotelian discussions of efficient causality, Ibn Sina’s theory of efficient causality has been modified and expanded with a Neoplatonic flavor, since it occurs in his very un-Aristotelian theory of emanation. For Ibn Sina, divine efficient causality is based in the otherness of the divine, for it is a cause that bestows existence on that which differs from itself. It is broader than simply a motion from potentiality to actuality, which is secondary causality, for it is a cause coming from something other than itself. Ibn Sina’s theory of divine efficient causality, therefore, is contingent on his emanation doctrine, in which the heavens are moved by their souls and the souls are moved by their reflection on the divine. Thus, God becomes the supreme cause, being that it is from God that the first emanation occurs. When emanation occurs in the sub-lunar world, it achieves a level of plurality unseen in other emanations. Al-Ghazali’s problem with emanation, and thereby with an infinitely temporal universe, is the assertion that within this scheme of emanation, cause and effect are co-existent and co-eternal. God, therefore, is prior to the universe only in the sense that his essence is prior to the essences that emanated from him.

16 Fakhry, “Classic Islamic Argument” 136.

17 Craig, The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz, 98.

18 The Mu‘tazilah and Ash‘arite were two schools of theologians in the history of Islam, the former held primacy in early Islam and the latter held primacy from the eighth century until the present. Al-Ghazali was an Ash‘arite, a school committed to the divine sovereignty of God. Some made the claim that Mu’tazilah theology, with its focus on human reason, is rising to prominence once again in post-colonial Muslim countries. See Martin, Woodman, with Atmaja, Defenders of Reason in Islam: Mu‘tazilism from Medieval School to Modern Symbol (Oxford: Oneworld, 1997)

19 William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (London: Macmillan, 1979), 7-8. Craig lists the six arguments typically employed by the mutakallimun for this demonstration: the argument from the contrary nature of simple bodies; the argument from experience; the argument from the finitude of motion, time and temporal objects; the argument from the world’s composition of finite parts; the argument from contingency; the argument from temporality. Craig notes that the first and second arguments were not influential, and that the third and fourth arguments come from the Alexandria Christian theologian John Philoponus (Yahya al-Nahwi). See also Fakhry, “Classical Islamic Arguments,” 135.

20 Fakhry, “Classical Islamic Arguments,” 136.

21 For a further discussion on the mutakallim doctrine of change with atoms and accidents, see Andrey Smirnov, “Causality in Islamic Thought,” in E. Deutch and R. Bontekoe, A Companion to World Philosophies (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997) 493-503.

22 Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994) 58. This syllogism is based from al-Ghazali’s works, the Iqtisad and the Jerusalem Letter.

23 Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, 44.

24 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 13.

25 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 13.

26 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 13.

27 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 14.

28 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 15.

29 Craig, Kalam Cosmological Argument, 12.

30 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 15.

31 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 16. Al-Ghazali offers the analogy of a man pronouncing divorce from his wife. Once a man makes the legal pronouncement of divorce, and separation does not occur, “it is inconceivable for it to occur thereafter.” For the actual pronouncement is the “cause of the judgment.” The only way a delay in the affect of the pronouncement could occur is if the man affixes some condition to the utterance (e.g. the divorce will occur upon the coming of the next morning), making the judgment relate to a future expected event.

32 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 17.

33 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 18.

34 Craig, Kalam Cosmological Argument, 45.

35 Craig, Kalam Cosmological Argument, 44-46. Craig concludes that this is a premise al-Ghazali grants to his opponents for the sake of the argument.

36 Al-Ghazali states, in Incoherence of the Philosophers, 18: “for the sphere of the sun rotates in one year, whereas Saturn’s rotates in thirty, so that the rotations of Saturn are a third of a tenth of the sun. [Again,] the rotations of Jupiter are a half of a sixth of the rotations of the sun; for it rotates once in every twelve years. [Now,] just as the number of rotations of Saturn is infinite, the number of solar rotations, although a third of a tenth [of the latter], is [also] infinite. Indeed, the rotations of the sphere of the fixed stars, which rotates [once in] every thirty-six thousand years, are infinite, just as the sun’s movement from east to west, taking place in a day and a night, is [likewise] infinite. If one then were to say, ‘This is one of things whose impossibility is known by the necessity [of reason],’ how would your [position] differ from his statement?”

37 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 19.

38 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 20.

39 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 21.

40 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 27.

41 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 28.

42 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 29.

43 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 30.

44 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 30.

45 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 31.

46 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 31.

47 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 32.

48 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 35.

49 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 21.

50 Craig, Kalam Cosmological Argument, 10ff.

51 Craig comments that the problem is linguistic, in that the mutakallimun use the word “determinant” interchangeably for either cause or reason. For example, al-Ghazali uses the terms murajjih and takhsis in three different senses. First, he uses it as a principle, when determining or choosing without any motive one of two similar objects to establish a distinction between them through choice. Second, as a principle that determines or chooses without the motive being known, the existence of one or two opposites that seem equally purposeful. Third, some dissimilarity that gives a motive for choice. Craig concludes that the first and second usages are efficient causes, while the third can be seen as a sufficient reason. See Craig, Kalam Cosmological Argument, 10-11.

52 Craig, Kalam Cosmological Argument, 12.

53 Craig, Kalam Cosmological Argument, 13. Craig adds that al-Ghazali’s use of the principle of determination is not simply the principle of efficient causality, which al-Ghazali rejects.

For the cause of the world to which the argument concludes is conceived by the Muslim thinkers to be, not just the mechanically operating, necessary and sufficient conditions for the production of an effect, but a personal agent who by an act of will chooses which equally possible alternative will be realized. God is the sabab of the world, but not its ‘illa. Otherwise, the universe would exist from eternity (See Craig, Kalam Cosmological Argument, 14).



For an explanation on the philosopher’s argument for efficient causality, see Michael E. Marmura, “The Metaphysics of Efficient Causality in Avincenna,” in Marmura, Islamic Theology and Philosophy, 172-187.

54 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 22.

55 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 22. R. M. Frank comments that al-Ghazali sees God’s eternal attributes as “distinguishable from His essence and are eternal and are subsistent in His essence.” According to al-Ghazali, there are no ontologically distinct “states” for God and his attributes. Rather he follows a position closer to al-Juwayni. See R. M. Franks, Al-Ghazali and the Ash‘arite School (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994) 48.

56 Al-Ghazali notes that his dialogue partners, the philosophers, might use the example of a thirsty man who is given the choice between two similar glasses of water. Each glass is exactly the same, and so the man chooses one glass over the other through some internal differentiation (the man is right handed, one glass appears clearer, one is closer to him, etc.). (Incoherence of the Philosophers, 22).

57 Watt explains that al-Ghazali “has little difficulty in showing that this [analogy] is merely hypothetical. He is, of course, no crude anthropomorphist. The question at issue between him and the philosopher is whether the ground of all being is not adequately described by human analogies or by analogy to natural forces.” See Watt, Muslim Intellectual, 60.

58 Al-Ghazali’s idea, however, of the divine making a dispassionate choice between two similars of existence and non-existence of the world, or whiteness and blackness, or shape and form of the world, seems contradictory to his theodicy, where God seems to create particular forms for a purpose. Al-Ghazali affirms a “best of all possible worlds” theodicy that states “God has arranged creation so well that not a speck of dust or the subtraction of a gnat’s wing is undesigned. All aspects of the human life, pleasure and pain or sickness and health are given in justice. This is so that the value of all things might be realized. “For if it were not for night, the value of day would be unknown. Were it not for illness, the healthy would not enjoy health. Were it not for hell, the blessed in paradise would not know the extent of the blessedness.” See Eric Ormsby (ed.), Theodicy in Islamic Thought: the Dispute over Al-Ghazali’s “Best of All Possible Worlds (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), 38-41.

59 Ibn Rushd, Tahafut al-Tahafut, Simon van der Bergh (trans. & ed.) (London, Luzac, 1954) 36.

60 Fakhry, Averroes, 18.

61 Fakhry, Averroes, 19.

62 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Volume 1 (Allen, TX: Thomas More, 1941) Q. 9, A. 1. “God is altogether immutable. First, because it was shown above that there is some first being, whom we call God; and that this first being must be pure act, without admixture of any potentiality, for the reason that, absolutely, potentiality is posterior to act. Now everything that is in any way changed is in some way in potentiality. Hence it is evident that it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable. Secondly, because everything which is moved, remain as it was in part, and passes away in part…thus everything which is moved, there is some kind of composition to be found. But…in God there is no composition, for He is altogether simple. Hence it is manifest that God cannot be moved. Thirdly, because everything which is moved acquires something by its movement, and attains to what it had not attained previously. But since God is infinite, comprehending in Himself all the plenitude of perfection of all being, He cannot acquire anything new, nor extend Himself to anything whereto He was not extended previously.”

63 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 13.

64 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 16.

65 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 17.

66 Majid Fakhry, Averroes (Ibn Rushd): His Life, Works and Influence (Oxford: Oneworld, 2001) 14-15.

67 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 18. As stated above, “Ghazali replies that the philosophers resort to saying that divine knowledge is different than human knowledge when it comes to the philosopher’s belief that God’s knowledge does not necessitate any change in the one divine essence. That is there is no multiplicity in knowing multiple universals or addition because of knowledge.”

68 William Hasker, “A Philosophical Perspective,” in Clark Pinnock et al, Openness of God (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994) 129. It is interesting to note that Alfred North Whitehead felt that if philosophy was true to Plato, that there would be a “philosophy of organism,” where the temporal participated in the divine. See Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: Macmillan, 1978) 39-40.

69 Hasker, “A Philosophical Perspective,” 132.

70 Dean Zimmerman puts the problem this way: “God’s infinite past has been characterized by constant change. If both God and the other thing existed during an interval, the change may not have involved God [e.g. world’s eternal co-existence]. But if there were periods during which only God existed, then God himself must have been undergoing constant intrinsic change during those times.” See Dean Zimmerman, “God inside Time and before Creation,” in Gregory E. Ganssle and David M. Woodruff (eds.), God and Time: Essays on the Divine Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 78.

71 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 31.

72 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 31.

73 Michael E. Marmura, "The Logical Role of the Argument from Time in the Tahafut’s Second Proof for the World’s Pre-Eternity,” Muslim World 49, 1959. Since temporal phenomena have an origin, then time itself must have an origin.

74 Brian Leftow, Time and Eternity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991) 79.

75 Leftow, Time and Eternity, 79.

76 Leftow, Time and Eternity, 299.

77 Garrett DeWisse, “Atemporal, Sempiternal, or Omnitemporal: God’s Temporal Mode of Being,” in Gregory E. Ganssle and David M. Woodruff (eds.), God and Time: Essays on the Divine Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 52-53. DeWisse concludes that timeless, or atemporal beings contain three characteristics: they are abstract, unlike concrete temporal entities; they must exist necessarily; and they are immutable. DeWisse, however, adds that no theologian would want to uphold that God is abstract.

78 Leftow, Time and Eternity, 302.

79 Leftow, Time and Eternity, 342.

80 John Cobb and David Ray Griffin, Process Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976) 8.

81 William Hasker, “The Absence of a Timeless God,” in Gregory E. Ganssle and David M. Woodruff (eds.), God and Time: Essays on the Divine Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 185.

82 Hasker, “The Absence of a Timeless God,” 186.

83 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, 18.

84 Al-Ghazali, Incoherence of the Philosophers, Discussions Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen. God’s knowledge can never hold a present knowledge of presently occurring events. God’s knowledge of present events can only take place in his divine determinism and foreknowledge of said events from infinite past.

85 Gregory E. Ganssle, “Introduction,” in Gregory E. Ganssle and David M. Woodruff (eds.), God and Time: Essays on the Divine Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 8.

86 DeWisse, “Atemporal, Sempiternal, or Omnitemporal,” 49-50.

87 Michael Robinson, Eternity and Freedom: A Critical Analysis of Divine Timelessness as a Solution to the Foreknowledge / Free Will Debate (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995) 67.

88 DeWisse, “Atemporal, Sempiternal, or Omnitemporal,” 56.

89 DeWisse, “Atemporal, Sempiternal, or Omnitemporal,” 56.

90 Robinson, Eternity and Freedom, 69.

91 William Lane Craig, “The Elimination of Absolute Time by the Special Theory of Relativity,” in Gregory E. Ganssle and David M. Woodruff (eds.), God and Time: Essays on the Divine Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 129-152.

92 Craig, “The Elimination of Absolute Time,” 130.

93 Craig, “The Elimination of Absolute Time,” 130.

94 Craig, “The Elimination of Absolute Time,” 131. Craig adds that the scientist and natural philosopher have come to deny absolute time, because it is empirically unidentifiable. Einstein’s rejection of absolute time is based on logical positivism of Machian providence. Since logical positivism is a defeated philosophical method, the logic of absolute time can be observed since absolute time transcends physical measurements of it.

95 Fakhry, “Classical Islamic Arguments,” 139.

96 Rahman, Islam, 95.





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