December 1, 2006
What Islamic Science and Philosophy?By Jonathan David Carson
We know that we are being lied to. Sometimes we just don't realize how much we are being lied to.
The more sordid the Islamic present seems, the more we are told of the glories of the Islamic past. And the most glorious of the glories of Islam, the most enlightened of its enlightenments, are the "Islamic science" and "Islamic philosophy" of the Golden Age.
So what does Islamic law say about this science and this philosophy? According to Reliance of the Traveller: The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 1368), they are unlawful, serious affronts to Islam, a form of apostasy. Apologists for Islam in the West brag about the "Islamic science" and "Islamic philosophy" that their accomplices in the Islamic world condemn.
Reliance of the Traveller lists the following sorts of "unlawful" knowledge:
The term "sciences of the materialists" requires explanation. It does not mean, as one might think, science that is based on the assumption that matter (and energy) is the sole constituent of the universe. Jews and Christians might agree that such "sciences of the materialists," if not "unlawful," at least present a truncated view of reality, omitting as they do the spiritual realm. It means, rather, according to the commentary of Reliance of the Traveller, the "conviction of materialists that things in themselves or by their own nature have a causal influence independent of the will of Allah. To believe this is unbelief that puts one beyond the pale of Islam."
At issue here is not the existence of the spiritual realm, but the condemnation by al-Ghazali in The Incoherence of the Philosophers of "the judgment of the philosophers," first of all Avicenna,
Causes and effects are inadmissible, according to al-Ghazali, because causes limit the absolute freedom of Allah to bring about whatever events he wills. Effects are brought about, not by causes, but by the direct will of Allah.
We see then that the condemnation of "the sciences of the materialists" and the condemnation of philosophy are really the same condemnation and that the condemnation of "the sciences of the materialists" is a condemnation of far more than secular science, extending as it does to any analysis of causes and effects, whether materialist or not. It extends even to any discussion of the nature of any object, whether material or spiritual, because the nature of an object conditions how it affects and is affected by other objects. So in the end the condemnation of "the sciences of the materialists" is a condemnation of any effort to understand anything.
Averroes replied to The Incoherence of the Philosophers in The Incoherence of the Incoherence, so al-Ghazali, whose views inform Reliance of the Traveller in particular and mainstream Islam in general, attacked Avicenna, one of the two greatest of the "Islamic philosophers," who was defended by the other, Averroes.
And we are told by the entire decrepit establishment that we should honor the "Islamic philosophy" of the Golden Age!
There is, however, a still closer connection between the philosophy and "the sciences of the materialists" declared unlawful by Reliance of the Traveller. Without a notion of cause and effect, science is impossible, and the acceptance by Islam of al-Ghazali's views meant that science in the Islamic world could develop only in opposition to a fundamental tenet of Islam.
If the true cause of events is the will of Allah, and if the will of Allah is inscrutable, then the causes of events are inscrutable and science a vain pursuit. The issue is ultimately whether the universe and its creator are in any way intelligible. The West, with its traditions of natural law and natural theology, agrees for the most part that the universe is astonishingly intelligible and God somewhat so. Islam, at least at its most rigorous, denies any intelligibility whatsoever to either.
The seriousness of the condemnation of philosophy and science by Reliance of the Traveller can be seen in its list of "Acts That Entail Leaving Islam." Belief "that things in themselves or by their own nature have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah" is apostasy.
In contrast, the Jewish and Christian worlds have been informed by the notion of secondary causes propounded by Moses Maimonides and Saint Thomas Aquinas. God works, at least most of the time, through the laws of nature, via causes. Just as our wills can be both free and subject to God, and divine foreknowledge does not foreclose the contingency of earthly events, God and nature cooperate in the production of effects.
Thus, nature both has its own laws and remains subject to the will of God. The laws of nature place no limitation on the freedom of God, and science can investigate natural causes without trespassing in the divine realm. Indeed, science, by investigating the operations of nature, simultaneously elucidates divine providence. Far from being "unlawful," science is, in this view, completely compatible with the worship of God, indeed more than simply compatible because it is the product of a desire to know God, a desire even for a divine intimacy.
There are two Bibles, as it were, Holy Scripture and the Book of Nature. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the things that are unseen are known by the things that are seen. That science as an institution has been corrupted by bad philosophy and worse theology in no way negates the fundamental compatibility of true science and true religion.
The importance of "occasionalism," the doctrine that events are brought about by the direct will of God, not by natural causes, for Islam and for the West's differences with it is emphasized in the following statement of Majid Fakhry:
This doctrine is at the heart of Islam. Avicenna, Averroes, Maimonides, and Aquinas warned us against it, but now university, scientific establishment, media, State Department, and even corporate America, elites of every sort, pretend that Avicenna and Averroes are the paragons of Islamic philosophy and Maimonides and Aquinas their best pupils and thus in debt to Islam. If we are going to escape humiliation, madness, and death, we are going to have to educate ourselves and fight for even the simplest and most obvious of truths. The establishment is certainly not going to do it for us.