Part 2b

The third premise

by Averroes

The third premise says that that which cannot be separated from a created thing is itself created, is equivocal.

It can be understood in 2 ways:

  1. The thing which cannot be separated from the class of created things, but can be removed from its units
  2. That which cannot be separated from any one of the things in question, as if one were to say, “That which cannot be separated from this blackness in question.”

The second meaning is the correct one, that is it cannot be separated from a certain accident, which is created, for it is absolutely necessary that it[104] should also be a created thing. For if it be eternal it becomes devoid of that accident, from which we suppose that it cannot separate.

This separation is impossible. The first explanation, and that is which they mean, does not necessarily involve the creation of place, that is, that which is not separated from the class of created things. For it is possible to imagine a single place, that is, a body upon which follow accidents without limit, either opposed to one another or otherwise, as you were to say, movements without limit.

Such is the opinion of many ancient philosophers about the universe, that it is made little by little. This is why, when the Mutakallimun saw the weakness of this premise, they resolved to make it strong and secure, by making it clear, that according to them, limitless accidents cannot follow upon a single point. For they maintain that on this occasion it is necessary that there cannot be found any other accident, except that there be[105] an unlimited number of accidents before it at the place in question.

This helps them to the impossibility of their presence, for it is necessary that it should not be there, except after the completion of an unlimited number. As the limitless never ends, it follows that the thing which we have supposed should not be there.

For instance, consider the movement of the heavenly bodies, as we know them today. If there were before it limitless movements, then it is inevitable that this particular movement should not occur.

They give the example of a man, who said to another, “I will not give you this dinar, till I have given you before it a limitless number of dinars.” By this it is not possible for him to give the dinar in question at all.

But this example is not a correct one. For in it there is a primary object, then a limit, and then another object between them, which is without limit. For he has said it in a limited time. So he has stipulated that he would give[106] the dinar between the time in which he is, and the time of which he speaks, between which there is a time without limit. This is the period in which he would give him the dinars without limit, which is impossible.

So it is quite clear that this example does not illustrate the object for which it is given. Their opinion that the existence of a thing which is found after limitless things, is impossible, is not correct in all the cases.

For the things which happen one after another are of two kinds: those which come to pass in cycles, and those which occur in order and arrangement. The things which occur in cycles are necessarily unlimited, except that something may interfere to prevent them. For instance if the sun rises there must be its setting; if there is a setting then it must rise, and if it rise it must have risen before. In the same way, if there are clouds there must be vapours rising from the earth; if there rise vapours from the earth, then it must be wet, if[107] the earth is wet, there must have been rain, and if there was rain there must have been clouds, and if thus there were clouds there must similarly have been clouds before them.

Again among those things which happen by order, is, for instance, the creation of man from man, and of that man from another. If this happens by essence then it can be taken as limitless, for which the first link is not found, the last also cannot be ascertained. If this is by accident, as for instance, if man be really made by some one other than man, who must be his father, then the position of his father would be the same as that of an instrument in the hands of a maker. So it is not possible to find an agent doing limitless actions, with countless different instruments.

All these views are not clear in this connection. We have mentioned them here, that it may become known, that the arguments which these people advance are no arguments at all, nor are they reasonings fit for the masses, that is,[108] open and clear arguments which God has imposed upon all his creatures for the sake of belief. It must now have become clear to you that this method is neither philosophical nor according to Law.

The other method is that which Abul Maali has deduced and described in one of his tractates known as Nizamiyyah. He has based it upon two premises: in the first place, that the universe and all that it contains may be conceived as other than what it really is.

It may be quite consistent, for instance, if it may be imagined smaller than it is, or bigger, or of some other shape than it really has or having more bodies in number than it really contains or the movements which are made in it may go in the opposite direction from that which they take now. This may be so much so that it may become possible that a stone should go upwards, and fire downwards, or that the movement starting in the east should start in the west, or the western from the eastern. The second premise is that every transient thing is created, and for it there is a creator; that is, an agent who made it in this way better than in any other.

The first premise is exhortative and very elementary. Its fallacy is quite apparent with regard to some aspects of the universe—for instance, the existence of man in some other form than he now possesses; while in some others there is doubt—for instance, whether the movement from the east might change to one from the west and vice versa, for this is not known in itself. It is possible that for this there may be a cause the existence of which is not evident, or it may be one of those causes which are hidden from man. It is possible that whatever of these things a man sees, is like one seeing for the first time things of the manufacture of which he is ignorant.

For such a man may think that all or parts of the thing may possibly be made in just the opposite fashion[110] from that in which they really are made; and still in spite of this idea the same work may be obtained from them for which they were made. In this case there would be no art in them. But its maker, and one who is associated with the maker in some of his knowledge, know that the whole thing is just the opposite of what that man has seen; and that there is nothing in it but that which is absolutely necessary, or the existence of which makes it more perfect and complete, though outwardly it may not seem quite necessary in it. It is quite clear that this manufactured thing, may in this connection, be taken as an illustration of God’s Creation—praised be its Great Creator.

This premise in being exhortative might be fit for all, but being untrue and falsifying the wisdom of the Creator, is not fit for any. It falsifies philosophy, because philosophy is nothing else but the knowledge of the causes of things. If there be no necessary causes for a[111] thing, which make its existence necessary in the form in which it exists, then there is no particular knowledge which may be attributed to the wise Creator. Just as if there had not been some necessary causes for the existence of any manufactured thing, there would have been no art at all, and no wisdom by which its maker might be praised, and which might not be found in any man other than the maker. Where would be found any wisdom in a man, if he could perform all his actions by any member of his body, or without any member at all, so much so that he could see with his ears, as he could see with his eyes, or smell with his eyes as he could with his nose.

This is all only falsifying philosophy, and the meaning for which God has called himself Wise (Hakim)—High and Holy be his name from such imputations. We find that Avicenna has also adopted this doctrine, for many reasons. He says that everything, except the maker, when taken[112] by itself, may either be possible or allowable. Of the latter—that is, things allowable, there are two kinds: One is allowable as regards its maker, the other is necessary as regards the maker; and possible as regards its essence. The only thing which is necessary, according to all reasons, is the first maker. This opinion is extremely incorrect. Because that which is possible in itself and its essence, will not possibly turn a necessity beyond its maker, but by a change of the possible nature into a necessary one.

If it be said that by these words he means “Possible with regard to itself”, that is, when the maker arises it will rise also, then we would say that this rising is impossible. But this is not the place to discuss the matter with this man. We ventured to talk of him, because of the many views which he has invented. Now we would return to our former theme. The second premise, which says that every transient thing is created, is[113] not in itself obvious. The philosophers have differed about it. Plato allows that the apparently transient thing may be eternal, while Aristotle denies it. It is a very intricate matter, and cannot be made clear except to the philosophers, that is, learned men, whom God has set apart for His knowledge, and has in His Book, coupled their witness with that of Himself and His angels.

Abul Maali has tried to make the premise clear by some other premises. First, that there should be something unique in every transient thing, which may make it more preferable by one of the two qualities. Second, that this particular thing cannot be any other than that intended. Third, that the thing which exists by intention is created. Then he says that a transient thing comes into existence by our intention, that is it is produced by previous volition.

For all the actions are performed either by nature or by intention. And nature is[114] not one of the passing things which are alike, that is, it not only creates the dissimilar but does the both. For instance, sea-anemone will absorb the yellow lob in the right side of the body and not in the left. But intention is the thing which is particularly applicable to a thing opposed to its like. Then he adds that the universe is like its creation and exists in the position in the atmosphere where it was made.

By the void he means another void in which the world was made. So he concluded that the universe was made by intention. The premise which says that it is intention which fixes the shape of a thing, is correct, but that universe is surrounded by a void is wrong, or at least not clear. Then again according to their notions, his act of placing the void is bad.

That is, it must be eternal, otherwise it would require another void for it. The premise saying that in this connection intention is nothing but a created thing is not clear. For the intention of an action is[115] connected with the desired act itself, for it is one of its adjuncts.

When one adjunct is found with the action the other must be there, for example the father and the son. If one be found potentially the other must also be so. Hence if the intention of the action is created, then necessarily the desired act must also be created.

If the intention of the action be eternal, then the thing desired by that action must also be eternal. The intention which precedes the intended object, is said to be a potential intention only; that is, the intention which has not yet brought its intended object into being.

This is quite clear, for when the intended object has appeared, then it becomes an existent thing, which it was not before the appearance of the intended object in action. When this becomes the cause of the creation of an intended thing, only by means of action, then, if the Mutakallimun assert that intention is created, it becomes clear that the intended[116] object must also be created. From the Law it is clear that there is no need to go so deeply into the problem as far as the masses are concerned. So it has not mentioned any eternal or created intention, but has only said that it exists and the things are created. So God says:—“Verily, Our speech upon anything when We will the same is, that We only say unto it, Be; and it is.”[30]

This has been so because the masses cannot understand the idea of created things from an eternal intention. But the fact is that the Law has not mentioned whether the intention is created or eternal, this being a doubtful thing for many people. The Mutakallimun have also no certain argument to advance for providing the possibility of a created intention for creation. For the principle with which they maintain their position for negating the existence of intention as eternal, is the premise which we have already mentioned, that is, the thing[117] which cannot be separated from the created thing is itself created. We will mention this again when talking of intention.

From the foregoing it has become clear that the well-known methods adopted by Asharites for the knowledge of God are certain neither philosophical, nor by Law. This would be quite clear to anyone who would look closely into the kind of arguments advanced in the Divine Book about the knowledge of the existence of the Creator. For if you look closely into this matter you will find that the arguments comprise both qualities, those of being certain and at the same time clear, without being complex, that is, they have few premises.

As to the Sufis their method in theorising is not a philosophical method—that is, made up of a number of premises, and syllogisms. They maintain that the knowledge of God, or of anything existent, is found in our own[118] hearts, after its detachment from all physical desires, and concentration of mind upon the desired object.

In support of their principle they bring many an argument from the exoteric side of Law. For instance they quote the Divine words, “And fear God, and God will instruct you,”[31] and, “Whoever do their best endeavour to prompt our true religion, We will direct them unto Our ways;”[32] and again, “If ye fear God, He will grant you a distinction,”[33] and many other verses of this kind which are considered to be helpful for their purpose. We say that this method, if we suppose it to be real, is not meant for all people. Had this method been satisfactory for all people then the philosophical method would have been quite futile, and its existence among the people would have been useless, and with it the existence of the Quran.

For that always invites us to theorising, judging, and admonishing by way of philosophy.[119] We of course do not deny that the control of physical desires is a condition for healthy thinking, as physical health is one of its conditions. For the control of desires is profitable in acquiring knowledge by itself, if it be made a condition for it, just as health is a condition for education, though it is not very useful for it. That is why our Law has invited all of us to this method and has insisted upon it, that is, for work, not that it is sufficient in itself, as these people think, but that it is useful for thinking as we have already described. This would be quite clear to any one who cares to ponder and think over it.

As to the Mutazilites—their books have not reached us in sufficient number in this Peninsula (Spain) that we may be able to form a fair estimate of the method which they have adopted in this matter. But it seems that their methods are like those of the Asharites.

None of these methods are in accordance with[120] that by which the Law invites all the people, according to the difference in their dispositions, to a confession of the existence of God, it may be asked: What is that method which the Law has laid down in the Divine Book, and upon which the Companions of the Prophet depended? We would say that the method which the Divine Book has adopted, and by which it has invited all to believe, is, when thoroughly investigated from the Quran, dependent upon two principles. The one is a knowledge of God’s solicitude for man, and the creation of everything for his sake. We would call this the argument of solicitude.

The second is the creation of the essences of the existent things, as for example, the creation of life in the minerals, and feeling and intelligence.

We would call this method the “argument of creation.”

The first method is founded upon two principles: first that all the existent things suit man; secondly, that this suitability must have existed[121] in the mind of the Maker before He intended to make the object in question, for it cannot be obtained by chance alone.

Now their suitability for the existence of man can be easily ascertained by the suitability of day and night, sun and moon, for the existence of man. Such is also the case with the suitability of the four seasons, and of the place in which he lives, that is, the earth.

It is also apparent with respect to animals, vegetables, and minerals; and many other things, such as rain, rivers, seas, the whole of the earth, water, fire and air. It is also evident from the different members of his body, on account of their suitability for the preservation of his life and existence.

On the whole, a knowledge of the benefit derived from all the existent things may be included in it. So it is necessary for a man who wants to know God perfectly, to investigate the benefits derived from existent things. In the argument of creation is included the existence of the animal[122] world, the plant world, and the heavens. This method is again based upon two principles, which can be found out by every man by his very nature. The one is that all things have been made and created. This is quite clear in itself, in the case of animals and plants, as God has said, “Verily the idols which ye invoke, beside God, can never create a single fly, though they may all assemble for that purpose.”[34] We see an inorganic substance and then there is life in it.

So we know for certain, that there is an inventor and bestower of life, and He is God. Of the heavens we know by their movements, which never become slackened, that they work for our benefit by divine solicitude, and are subordinate to our welfare. Such an appointed and subordinate object is always created for some purpose.

The second principle is that for every created thing there is a creator. So it is right to say from the two foregoing principles[123] that for every existent thing there is an inventor. There are many arguments, according to the number of the created things, which can be advanced to prove this premise. Thus it is necessary for one who wants to know God as He ought to be known, to acquaint himself with the essence of things, so that he may get information about the creation of all things.

For who cannot understand the real substance and purpose of a thing, cannot understand the minor meaning of its creation. It is to this that God refers in the following verse, “Or do they not contemplate the heaven and the earth, and the things which God has created?”[35] And so a man who would follow the purpose of philosophy in investigating the existence of things, that is, would try to know the cause which led to its creation, and the purpose of it would know the argument of kindness most perfectly. These two arguments are those adopted by Law.

The verses of the Quran leading to a knowledge of the existence of God are dependent only on the two foregoing arguments. It will be quite clear to anyone who will examine closely the verses, which occur in the Divine Book in this connection. These, when investigated, will be found to be of three kinds: either they are verses showing the “arguments of kindness,” or those mentioning the “arguments of creation,” or those which include both the kinds of arguments. The following verses may be taken as illustrating the argument of kindness.

“Have we not made the earth for a bed, and the mountains for stakes to find the same? And have we not created you of two sexes; and appointed your sleep for rest; and made the night a garment to cover you; and destined the day to the gaining of your livelihood and built over you seven solid heavens; and placed therein a burning lamp? And do we not send down from the clouds pressing forth rain, water pouring[125] down in abundance, that we may thereby produce corn, and herbs, and gardens planted thick with trees?”[36] and, “Blessed be He Who hath placed the twelve signs in the heavens; hath placed therein a lamp by day, and the moon which shineth by night;”[37] and again, “Let man consider his food.”[38] The following verses refer to the argument of invention, “Let man consider, therefore of what he is created.

He is created of the seed poured forth, issuing from the loins, and the breast bones;”[39] and, “Do they not consider the camels, how they are created; the heaven, how it is raised; the mountains, how they are fixed; the earth how it is extended;”[40] and again, “O man, a parable is propounded unto you; wherefore hearken unto it. Verily the idols which they invoke, besides God, can never create a single fly, though they may all assemble for the purpose.”[41][126]

Then we may point to the story of Abraham, referred to in the following verse, “I direct my face unto Him Who hath created heaven and earth; I am orthodox, and not of the idolators.”[42] There may be quoted many verses referring to this argument. The verses comprising both the arguments are also many, for instance, “O men, of Mecca, serve your Lord, Who has created you, and those who have been before you: peradventure you will fear Him; Who hath spread the earth as a bed for you, and the heaven as a covering, and hath caused water to descend from heaven, and thereby produced fruits for your sustenance.

Set not up, therefore, any equals unto God, against your own knowledge.”[43] His words, “Who hath created you, and those who have been before you,” lead us to the argument of creation; while the words, “who has spread[127] the earth” refer to the argument of divine solicitude for man. Of this kind also are the following verses of the Quran, “One sign of the resurrection unto them is the dead earth;

We quicken the same by rain, and produce therefrom, various sorts of grain, of which they eat;”[44] and, “Now in the creation of heaven and earth, and the vicissitudes of night and day are signs unto those who are endowed with understanding, who remember God standing, and sitting, and lying on their sides; and meditate on the creation of heaven and earth, saying O Lord, Thou hast not created this in vain, far be it from Thee, therefore deliver us from the torment of hell fire.”[45] Many verses of this kind comprise both the kinds of arguments.

This method is the right path by which God has invited men to a knowledge of His existence, and informed them of it through the intelligence which He has implanted in their nature. The[128] following verse refers to this fixed and innate nature of man, “And when the Lord drew forth their posterity from the loins of the sons of Adam, and took them witness against themselves, Am I not your Lord?

They answered, Yea, we do bear witness.”[46] So it is incumbent for one who intends to obey God, and follow the injunction of His Prophet, that he should adopt this method, thus making himself one of those learned men who bear witness to the divinity of God, with His own witness, and that of His angels, as He says, “God hath borne witness, that there is no God but He, and the angels, and those who are endowed with wisdom profess the same; who executeth righteousness; there is no God but He; the Mighty, the Wise.”[47] Among the arguments for both of themselves is the praise which God refers to in the following verse, “Neither is there any thing which doth not celebrate his praise; but[129] ye understand not their celebration thereof.”[48]

It is evident from the above arguments for the existence of God that they are dependent upon two categories of reasoning.

It is also clear that both of these methods are meant for particular people; that is, the learned. Now as to the method for the masses. The difference between the two lies only in details.

The masses cannot understand the 2 above-mentioned arguments but only what they can grasp by their senses.

The learned men can go further, and learn by reasoning also, besides learning by sense.

They have gone so far that a learned man has said, that the benefits the learned men derive from the knowledge of the members of human and animal body are a thousand and one. If this be so, then this is the method which is taught both by Law and by Nature. It is the method which was preached by the Prophet and the[130] divine books.

The learned men do not mention these 2 lines of reasonings to the masses, not because of their number, but because of a want of depth of learning on their part about the knowledge of a single thing only.

The example of the common people, considering and pondering over the universe, is like a man who looks into a thing, the manufacture of which he does not know. For all that such a man can know about it is that it has been made, and that there must be a maker of it.

But, on the other hand the learned look into the universe, just as a man knowing the art would do; try to understand the real purpose of it.

So it is quite clear that their knowledge about the Maker, as the maker of the universe, would be far better than that of the man who only knows it as made.

The atheists deny the Creator altogether.

  • They are like men who can see and feel the created things, but would not acknowledge any Creator for them.
  • They attribute [131] all to chance alone, and that they come into being by themselves.


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