Saturday, April 07, 2012

Book Pondering:  The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert Reilly - The Metaphysics of the Will


This chapter concerns the dispute between free will and predestination schools which necessarily leads into notions of cause and effect.  I would have liked to see a comparison between the Islamic disputes and those of the Calvinists vs. the Arminians, or maybe we could bring in the modernists with their notion that all things were predetermined by the Big Bang, except that Karma is infused everywhere ...  

Reilly thinks that much hinges on the notion that will precedes reason in Islam's notion of God, whereas in Christianity it is the opposite:

"This is exactly the disputed point:  for Averroes and Aquinas the source of creation is knowledge and wisdom; for al-Ghazali it is will and power.  Knowledge and wisdom have an inherent order; will and power do not."

My quibble with this is that some of this discussion implies a temporal ordering of will and wisdom, yet Christianity puts these outside of time.  A cute consequence of this 

"Thus, points out Hoodbhoy, 'Many if not most, orthodox ulema contend that prediction of rain lies outside of what can be lawfully known to man, and infringes on the supernatural domain.  Consequently, between 1983 and 1984, weather forecasts were quietly suspended by the Pakistani media, although they were later reinstated."

Now I must say that many Americans - including atheists - have a similarly dim view of weather forecasting!

There is more substance to the next point that good and evil exist only as whims of the almighty:

"Al-Ash'ari expressed this view in a question and answer dialogue:

Since the Creator is subject to no one and bound by no command, nothing can be evil on His part.
Objection:  Then lying is evil only because God has declared it to be evil.
Answer:  Certainly.  And if He declared it to be good, it would be good; and if He commanded it, no one could gainsay him."

I believe that is similar to how political correctness works - truth is whatever the one with the most power decrees it to be.  This distinction is quite important, as Christians view God as being inherently good and God's will flows from his goodness.  Atheists love to dispute with the Christians on this point, but quite sensibly refrain from disputing with Islam.  Where Reilly gets into a tangle is that the Greek philosophical notion of the gods is that they are arbitrary and do whatever they please, yet they must also be honored unconditionally.

Regarding man's moral condition, we have this:

"Morality, or what is just, cannot be known rationally for two reasons.  One is practical:  reason is too corrupted by man's self-interest. ...  The other reason man cannot independently know right from wrong, which really makes the first reason close to disingenuous, is epistemological:  man cannot know what does not exist to be known (whether he is self-interested or not).  Since nothing is right or wrong intrinsically, there is nothing to be known in this respect."

The first reason sounds like an extension of the Calvinist's Doctrine of Total Depravity.  The second sounds like atheism, except that there is a controlling legal authority.  At this point I am starting to align a bit with Reilly's narrative.  My complaint with the book so far centers on this:  "cause and effect, cause and effect".  Reilly asserts that "Mohammed was not a theologian", so when the Ash'irite's appear it is as if they were transported in through the hyperspace from another dimension.  The cause of this Ash'irite school just seems to be the Fates or whatever.  Yes, they quote from the Koran, but so do the Mu'tazalites, who come to an opposite view.  I presume that this reflects the Papist notion that the meaning of scripture is determined not by reason, but by tradition. (Reflecting a reality that is in direct conflict with all the quotes from Aquinas and Augustine.)  Or maybe the post-modernist view that scripture can be construed to mean anything ... or the manner of David Hume where cause and effect are deemed to be synonyms, so describing something is deemed to be explaining the cause.  

Regardless, we are left with the notion that good and evil are not abstract realities in Islam, but purely arbitrary so that what is good one moment can be evil the next and vice verse.

7 comments:

Delirious said...

I don't remember if I have talked with you about "predestination" before or not. I think we've been blogger friends for several years now! :) It's hard to remember, and I tend to repeat myself anyway.

We don't believe in "predestination", but we do believe in "foreordination". This is the idea that when we lived as spirits before this earth life, we may have been ordained to perform certain tasks in this life. We believe that all of the prophets were fore-ordained to that position in the pre-existence. But we don't know, there might be people who didn't live up to that ordination in this life, so did not fulfill in mortality what was assigned to them.

Vid said...

I think (for the purposes of discussion) morality can't be logically figured out because God decides what is moral, and God exists outside of reason or logic. Logic applies to the universe, but God created the universe and thus doesn't have to abide by its laws.

Looney said...

@Delirious, I think you may have mentioned this, but it will probably take multiple times of me hearing it to stick! So if people are prepared for a role, but then don't live up to it, is this known beforehand by God?

Looney said...

@Vid, whether morality is amenable to reason or not was a major dispute of the classical philosophers. The same diversity of views seem to be reflected in religions also.

The Christian notion is that God allowed mankind to obtain moral reason - The Knowledge of Good and Evil - but we are cursed as a result. In this sense Christianity is at home with the Stoics, Plato and Aristotle who assert that reason tells us of right and wrong.

Reilly's description of Islam is following that of the Skeptics and Academics who believed that reason could not tell us about morality.

Rummuser said...

Don't get mad at me, but think before you respond.

What mind?

Looney said...

@Rummuser, no, I am not mad and had to think a bit to (hopefully) understand the question.

I guess you are inviting me to give a defense of Islam with that! My defense is the same as I would give for atheism, which - as a philosophy - rejects all notions of good and evil, right and wrong, true and false. There is only survival of the fittest. Victory or defeat. Nothing more.

A moral mind can be grafted in from somewhere else, but Islam rejects this even though modern atheists routinely embrace portions of non-Atheist ethical system.

At the same time, Christianity says that we are all endowed with a knowledge of good and evil thanks to biting the apple in the Garden of Eden. Thus, even though Islam may have no mind, there is still a mind to temper the behavior of all of us.

Delirious said...

Looney, this is an interesting question, and like I said, I don't know if this actually happens. It could be that only those who God knew would live up to it were f0re-ordained. But seeing that God knows everything, I would have to assume that He did know.

With regard to your answer to Vid, I think that knowing good an evil could be viewed as a curse, but I think the curse part came to Adam and Eve in the result of being cast out of the garden of Eden. I think the "knowledge" part was actually a blessing.