Part 2

Arguments On The Beliefs Of The Faith

by Averroes

The Law is of 2 kinds:

  1. Exoteric
  2. Esoteric

The duty of the common people is to follow the exoteric law. The duty of learned men is to follow the esoteric one.

So the duty of the common people is to follow the meanings of the Law in their literal sense, leaving aside every interpretation of it. The learned men are not permitted to expose their interpretations to the common people, as Ali, (upon whom be peace) has said, “Tell the people what they can understand. Do you wish to give the lie to God and His Apostle?”[85]

So I thought that in the present book I should examine the exoteric meanings which the Law intends the common people to follow, and in those, search the real purpose of the Law-giver, (on whom be peace) according to my ability and knowledge. For the people of His Law have been extremely disturbed, so much so that many misguided sects and different divisions, have been produced, every one of which thinks that it is following the best Law, and that he who disagrees is either an innovator or an infidel whose life and property is at stake. All this is directly opposed to the purpose of the Law-giver. Its cause lies in the misleading things about the Law which have been put forward.

In our own times, there are four of these sects which are famous. In the first place, there is the sect of the Asharites, and these are the people who are commonly taken to be men of Sunna. Then there are Mutazilites, the sects of the Batinites, (Esoteric), and the sect[86] of the Bombasts. Every one of these sects has its own peculiar beliefs about God, and has turned many an exoteric word of the law to interpretations, which they have applied to those beliefs. They think that theirs was the original Law which all the people are asked to follow, and he who deviates from it is either an innovator or an infidel.

But when you look into all their views and then examine the purpose of the Law, it would appear that a great part of them are recent opinions and innovating interpretations. Of them I will mention here those indispensable beliefs in the Law, without which Faith does not become complete, and will search, in every one of them, the real purpose of the Law-giver, (peace be upon him,) beyond that which has been made the basis of the Law, and its beliefs before the coming into use of incorrect interpretations.

The first step is to explain the methods which leads to the knowledge of the existence of the Creator. This is the first thing which a student should know.

But before this, it is necessary that we should mention the opinions of the well-known sects.

The Bombasts hold that the method of obtaining knowledge of the existence of the Creator is by hearing and not by reason, that is, the belief in His existence, the verification of which is incumbent upon all men, is enough to be taught by the Law-giver, and believed as an article of Faith, as is the case with his teachings about the condition of the Day of Judgment, and others with which our reason has no power to deal.

This is obviously a misleading sect. It falls short of the purpose of the Law, as regards the method adopted towards all the people, leading them to[88] the knowledge of the existence of God, and calling them to the confession of His belief.

The people have been called by the Quran to verify the existence of the Creator by arguments of reason which are mentioned in it. The Quran says:

“O men of Mecca, serve your Lord who has created you and those before you,”[26] and “Is there any doubt concerning God, the Creator of heaven and earth?”[27]

People should not say that if these arguments had been necessary for believing in God—that is, had his faith been not completed without understanding them—the Prophet would not have invited anybody to Islam without presenting to him all these arguments, for the Arabs already knew the existence of the Creator, so that God has said, “If thou asketh them who has[89] created the heavens and the earth, they will surely answer, God,”[28]

Hence there was no use giving arguments. It is impossible to find a man so stupid and dull, that he cannot understand the arguments advanced by Law for the common people, through the Prophet.

This is to say the least. If there be found such a man, then it is his duty to believe in God by hearing alone. So much for the ideas of the Bombasts about the exoterics of the Law.

The Asharites

The Asharites believe that the verification of the existence of God can only be attained by reason.

  • But they used a method which is not among the methods adopted by Law, and is not mentioned in the Quran

Their well-known method is founded upon the fact that the universe is a created thing, which is itself based upon the theory of the composition of atoms, and that the atom is a[90] created thing, and that other bodies are created out of it.

The method which they adopt for the exposition of the creation of an atom, which they call al-Jauharat u’l Faridah (sole Essence), is a misleading one even for many religious men in the business of controversy, not to speak of the common people.

It is a method devoid of philosophy. It does not lead to a belief in the existence of the Creator.

For if we suppose the universe is a created thing, it becomes necessary, as they say, that its Creator must also be a “Created” object. But a doubt presents itself about the existence of this created thing, which is not in the power of scholastic theology to solve. And that is this, that we can take this thing to be neither eternal nor created.

For if we take it as created, then it must require another created thing, and this another, and so on to infinity. This is impossible. On the other hand, if we take Him as eternal, then it is necessary that his[91] action in connection with the result must also be eternal. In this way the results also become eternal. It is necessary for a created thing that its existence be dependent upon a created action.

Their hypothesis can only be proved if they admit that a created action can be performed by an eternal agent. For the result of the action might be dependent on the action of the agent. But they do not admit it, for according to their principles what is coeval with created things is itself created. Moreover, if the agent sometimes acts and at other times remains inactive, it is necessary, that there be a condition better applicable in one state of things than in the other.

Then about this condition the same question will rise, and so it will go on till infinity. And what the Mutakallimun say in answer to this objection that the created action is the result of eternal intention, does not relieve us of our doubt or satisfy our mind.

Intention without action is dependent upon[92] the act, and if the act is a created thing, then it is necessary that the intention in connection with it must also be a created thing. It makes no difference whether we take the intention as eternal or created, rising before the action or with it. So we may take it as we like.

All the same it is necessary for them to admit either of the three things about the universe—either a created action, with a created intention or a created action and an eternal intention, or an eternal action with an eternal intention.

But a created thing is impossible from an eternal action without any expedient, even if we admit for their sake, that it comes into existence by eternal action; and putting intention itself or the action, connected with the act is a thing which cannot be understood. This is supposing an act without an agent, with a result, without any intention. Intention is a condition of the action and not the action itself.

Also it is necessary that this eternal intention, should be connected[93] with non-existence of a created thing, for a period of time which is indefinite. So if a created thing be non-existence for an unknown period of time, then it does not become connected with the intention at the time of its creation, except after the completion of a time of which there is no limit, and that which has no limit has no end.

So it becomes necessary that the intention should never take the form of action, or a time without limit should come to an end, which is impossible. This is the argument of the Mutakallimun, on which they rely in proving that the revolutions of the heavens are created.

Moreover, it is necessary that to the intention which precedes the object, and is connected with it, at a certain time, there should be created in it at the time of creation of the object a determination for doing so. For the determination for the creation of an object cannot be found before that time, because if at the time of action there be found no additional[94] quality in the agent, than that he had at the time of intention, then action from him at that time would not be quite as necessary from him as inactivity.

We may go on in this way, finding all the obscure and intricate doubts, from which, not to speak of the common people, even clever men, learned in scholastic theology, in philosophy, cannot escape. So if the common people be burdened with a knowledge of these things, it would be an unbearable problem for them.

The Asharites’ methods in proving the creation of the universe are defective for all classes of men.

  • The common people, by their very nature, cannot understand them

The Asharites have 2 kinds of methods:

  1. Three premises from which they derive the proof for the creation of the universe.

This is the more famous of the 2 and upon which a[95] majority of them relies.

They are:

  1. Essences cannot be separated from accidents, that is, they cannot be devoid of them

The essences cannot be separated from the accidents, they mean the bodies which stand by themselves, then the premise is correct. But if by essence they mean the particle which cannot be divided, which they call Sole Essence, then there is doubt about it, which is not easy to solve. For the existence of an indivisible essence is not well established in itself, and about it there are many opposite and highly contradictory opinions, and it is not in the power of scholastic theology to bring truth out[96] of them. That is the business of philosophers who are very few in number.

  1. The accidents are created things

  2. That which cannot be separated from a created thing is itself created, that is, that which cannot be severed from the created thing is itself created.

The arguments which Asharites use are for the most part exhortative. For their famous argument on this is that they say that our first knowledge about a thing is, for instance, that an elephant is bigger than an ant, for it is accepted that the former has more particles in it than the latter.

If it be so, then it is made up of particles and is not a compact whole in itself. So when the body is destroyed it changes into particles, and when composed it is composed of them. But this is wrong. For they have taken a divisible quantity as a continuous one, and then thought that that which is applicable to the divisible is also applicable to the continuous.

This is true about numbers, that is, we say that a certain number is more than the other, by its containing more particles in it, that is, more units. But it cannot be true of a continuous quantity,[97] of which we say that it is bigger or greater. In this way everything may be enumerated without any reference to its bulk at all.

The science of mathematics becomes the science of number only. It is well-known that every bulk can be considered with regard to line, surface and volume. Moreover, a continuous quantity it is possible to cut in the middle and thus get two parts. But this is impossible in the units of number, nay, it is opposed to it. Then, again, the body and other particles of a continuous quantity are capable of being divided.

But everything divisible is either divided into other divisible quantities, or into indivisible ones. If it is divided into indivisible ones then we have found particles which cannot be divided. And if it is divided into other divisible parts, then again the question arises whether these can be divided into divisible or indivisible parts. So if it can be divided a limitless number of times, there[98] would be limitless particles in a limited thing. But it is one of the primary principles of knowledge that particles in a limited thing are limited.

Among the obscure doubts which can be attributed to the Asharites is the question whether if an atom is brought into being, this is different from creation itself, for it is one of the accidents?

When the created thing exists the act of creation is non-existent for according to their principles, the accidents cannot be separated from their essences. So this has compelled them to regard creation as pertaining to the existent things and not for it. Then they may be asked; if creation implies the non-existence of a thing, with what is the act of the agent connected, for, according to them, there is no mean between existence and non-existence.

If this be so, and, according to them, the action of the agent is connected neither with non-existence, nor with that which is and nevertheless[99] brings about an existence, it must be connected with a middle substance. This doubt has compelled the Mutazilites to say that there is a substance, even in non-existence, which they call Matter or First Element. They should admit that that which is non-existent can be made existent by action. Both of these sects must also admit the existence of a void. These are questions, which as you see, cannot be solved by dogmatics. Thus, it is clear that such a method cannot be made a basis of the knowledge of God, especially for the masses. We will shortly describe a clearer method of knowing God.

Now as to the second premise, according to which it is said that all the accidents are created things:—This is a premise concerning which there are doubts, and its meaning is as hidden as the soul in a body. For we have observed many bodies to be created and such is also the case with some accidents. So there is no difference in transferring[100] an observed object to the invisible, in both the cases.

For if it is necessary, with regard to accidents, to apply what applies of the visible things to the invisible, that is, if we should suppose a thing which we have not seen, so created, by the analogy of that which we have observed, then we should also apply it to the essences. Thus we can become quite careless of proving the creation of accidents, as distinct from that of essences.

The creation of the accidents of the heavenly bodies is extremely doubtful to the observer just as there is doubt in their essential creation. For the creation of their accidents is never perceived. So it is necessary that we should clearly observe them.

This is the method which surely and certainly leads pious people to the knowledge of God. This is the method of the chosen men, and that with which God has particularly blessed the prophet Abraham. He says: “And thus did We show unto Abraham the kingdom[101] of heaven and earth, that he might become of those who firmly believe.”[29] For the whole doubt concerns the heavenly bodies themselves. Many controversialists have stopped here and believed that these are so many gods.

Time is one of the accidents, the creation of which it is impossible to imagine, for it is necessary that the non-existence of a thing be preceded by time.

But in this case it cannot be imagined that the non-existence of a thing can be preceded by itself, except by accepting time as existent.

So also it is difficult to imagine the creation of the space in which the universe is, for every existent thing occupies a former space. For if it is a void, as is the opinion of those who think that the void itself is space, its creation also, if we suppose it to be created, must been have preceded by another void.

If the space be a tangible body, as is the opinion of another group, then it should be contained in another[102] body, which would require another, and so on without limit. These are all obscure problems and the arguments which are brought to disprove the eternity of the accidents, are necessary for one who believes in the eternity of those accidents which can be perceived; that is, one who asserts that not all the accidents are created. For they say that the accidents which can be perceived by the senses are created things.

If they are not created, then they will move from one place to another, or will be latent in the place in which they are to appear, before they make their appearance. Then they disprove both of these arguments, and think that they have established that all the accidents are created things.

The apparently created portions of the accidents are created, not those whose creation is not apparent, nor those in whose case there is doubt, such as the accidents which are in the heavenly[103] bodies, in their movement, in their shape, etc.

So their arguments about the creation of all accidents, can be interpreted by the analogy of the visible to the invisible. This is an exhortative argument, except in the suggestion of reasonable arguments which depend here on the certainty of the similarity of the character of the visible and the invisible.


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