God, arguments for the existence of


God, arguments for the existence of
   Although the Qur’an provides no strict proofs for the existence of God, it repeatedly urges us to consider the origin, harmonious order and sustained existence of the world, and to draw the appropriate conclusion. In this manner, it lays the groundwork for rational reflection on the existence of God. Islamic theologians and philosophers took up this challenge and produced numerous resourceful proofs. They had a particular fondness for the cosmological argument, although Aristotle’s seminal argument from causality – which posits God as the primary Unmoved Mover in order to explain the phenomenon of motion – never really gained the preeminence in the Islamic world that it had in the West. Two versions of the cosmological argument deserve particular mention here. The first argument, formulated in various ways by the kalam theologians, endeavors to prove the existence of God through the createdness or temporal originatedness (huduth) of the world. The early Mu‘tazilites and Ash‘arites did this by analyzing the world into atoms (sing: al-juz’) and accidents (sing: ‘arad ), which, they maintained, have no spatial or temporal extension (i.e. the basic constituents of the natural world cannot in themselves subsist beyond an instant of time). From the temporality of the world’s basic components they derived the temporality of the world itself. (Mutatis mutandis, one could use this same model to argue for the existence of a micro-managing creator God who perpetually creates and recreates the world, providing it with the order, stability and efficacy that it intrinsically lacks – which the Ash‘arites did by means of their occasionalist metaphysics.) Another popular argument for the createdness of the world (appropriated from the Christian apologist John Philoponus and employed by Ibn Hazm, al-Ghazali, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and others), argued dialectically against the eternity of the universe by teasing out the seemingly absurd implications of an infinite temporal regress. Once the temporal origination of the world had been established, it was then just a matter of applying the principle of determination. According to this principle, prior to the world’s coming-into-being, it did not exist and thus required some preexisting cause (murajjih) to determine its existence over its non-existence. What could this determining cause be but God? Recast by al- Ghazali in syllogistic form, the argument ran as follows: Everything that is temporally originated must have a cause; the world is temporally originated; therefore the world must have a cause, which is God.
   The kalam theologians sought to establish the existential contingency ( jawaz) of the world (i.e. its dependency upon God) by proving its temporal origin. Accordingly, they rejected the philosophers’ thesis that the world is eternal, insofar as it seemed to imply the necessity of the world itself and thus reduced God to an unnecessary hypothesis. For them, eternalism was effectively equivalent to materialism and atheism. However, one finds among the philosophers powerful, atemporal versions of the cosmological argument that emphasize the dependency of the world upon God without presupposing its temporal createdness. Ibn Sina’s formulation – the most important and influential of all – begins with an Aristotelian distinction between necessary (wajid ) and merely possible or contingent (mumkin) existence. That which exists necessarily requires no cause: its existence is self-explanatory and cannot be denied without generating a contradiction. That which possesses only possible or contingent existence may exist, but it might just as easily not exist – no contradiction is involved either way. Since it does exist, there must be some cause that necessitates its existence over its non-existence. This determining cause must in turn be either necessary in itself or possible. If it too is merely possible, then it requires another more fundamental cause in order to explain its existence. And so forth. Either this explanatory chain goes on indefinitely, with possible beings being caused by other merely possible beings, or there is ultimately a Necessary Existent which provides the ontological ground for all merely possible beings, without itself requiring a cause. An infinite regress is impossible, since no entity in the series would ever be actualized and thus the bare existence of any possible being would be inexplicable. Therefore, there must be some Necessary Existent that bestows existence upon all otherwise merely possible beings, and that being is God. This demonstration was taken up by numerous Islamic philosophers and theologians, as well as Jewish and Christian thinkers such as Ibn Maymun (Maimonides) and Aquinas, and today is generally considered the most robust traditional form of the cosmological argument.
   See Ash‘arites; causality; al-Ghazali; God; Ibn Sina; occasionalism; Qur’an
   Further reading: Davidson 1987; Fakhry 1958; Goodman 1992a/2006; Netton 1989/95

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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