Al-Ghazâli Among Contemporary Cosmologists

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Circa a millennium ago Persian philosopher Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazâli stood against Aristotelian view “[t]hat the heaven as a whole neither came into being nor admits of destruction, but is one and eternal, with no end or beginning of its duration”(Aristotle Heav II.1.283b[1]).  Al-Ghazâli contended that every being that begins to exist has a cause for its beginning. The universe, contrary to Aristotle, is not eternal. The universe is a being that began to exist and thus possesses a cause for its beginning (Al-Ghazâli 1947: 203).

Al-Ghazâli argued that time began to exist with the universe. He contended,

Time is generated and created, and before it there was no time at all. The meaning of our words that God is prior to the world and to time is: He existed without the world and without time, then He existed and with Him there was the world and there was time. (1978: 38)

Avoiding a daunting implications of a cosmic beginning for the role of a Creator (Hawking 1988) many philosophers and scientists who favored a naturalistic worldview were not persuaded by philosophical arguments for the beginning of the universe. They could hide behind the possibility of eternal cosmos. New reasons are being uncovered and proof emerging in contemporary cosmology that shows that the universe, as argued by Al-Ghazâli, cannot have existed eternally. Alexandra Vilenkin representatively concluded, “There is no escape, they [cosmologists] have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning” (Vilenkin 2006: 176). Vilenkin stated that all the evidence that cosmologists have points toward the a beginning of the universe (Grossman 2012: 7)

Faced with contemporary proof from cosmology of cosmic beginning Peter Atkins and Quentin Smith accepted that the universe began to exist a finite time ago. Circumventing its daunting implication they both hold a profound stance of a self-caused universe. Atkins hold that “[s]pace-time generates its own dust in the process of its own self-assembly.” (Atkins 1994: 143) and Smith argued:

My Kalam cosmological argument has for its conclusion that the beginning of the universe’s existence is self-caused. “B is self-caused” does not mean the same as “B causes B” but means the same as “each part of B is caused by earlier parts of B, B’s existence is logically entailed by its parts’ existence, and the basic laws instantiated by these parts are caused to be instantiated by earlier parts that also instantiate these laws. (Smith 2007: 184)

The major problem with Atkins’ and Smith’s stance is that it assumes the existence of the universe or part of the universe to explain its beginning. For space-time to generate its own dust, it must first exist. When we assert “A caused B”, we assume that A exists; then it caused B. Nonexistent space-time cannot generate existing things. Ex nihilo nihil fit.  Though different from Atkins’, Smith’s earlier parts of B, in a similar vain, assumes the existence of parts of the universe to explain its later parts.

Al-Ghazâli’s proof of the existence of God, a spaceless, timeless, nonphysical and immaterial being, as the cause of the beginning of the universe no longer rely on philosophical arguments alone. It seems to be enjoying  support of its long challenged premise from contemporary cosmology.


[1] Aristotle On The Heavens, II,1,283b

Atkins, Peter (1994) Creation Revisited. Harmondsworth, Penguin

 Al-Ghazâli (1947) Bulletin de l’Institut Francais d’Archaeologie Orientale 46 1947: 203) cf Nasr(1993) An introduction to Islamic cosmological doctrines. Trans. Seyyed Hossein Albany : State University of New York Press

____________ (1978) in  Averroes: Tahafut al Tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence). Averroes & Simon Van den Bergh(trans.) Gibb Memorial Trust; REP edition

Grossman, Lisa (2012) “Death of the eternal cosmos. From the cosmic egg to the infinite multiverse, every model of the universe has a beginning” in NewScientist of 14th January 2012: 2847

Hawking, Stephen (1988) A Brief History of Time New York: Bantam Books.

Smith, Quentin (2007) “Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism” in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism Ed. Michael Martin (2007)

Vilenkin, Alexander (2006) Many Worlds in One. New York: Hill and Wang

Smith’s Probabilistic Argument From Evil

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“Cries of terror and extreme agony rent the night, intermingled with the sounds of jaws snapping bones and flesh being torn from limbs” vividly described Quentin Smith his dark night cabin in the woods experience. “One animal was being savagely attacked, killed and then devoured by another”(Smith 1991, 159).

Self-evidence  of this instances of the law of predation, “the natural law that animals must savagely kill and devour each other in order to survive”, according to Smith, is a sufficient evidence that God does not exist.

Smith outlined his probabilistic argument as follows:

(1) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.

(2) If God exists, then there exist no instances of an ultimately evil natural law.

(3) It is probable that the law of predation is ultimately evil.

(4) It is probable that there exist instances of the law of predation.

Therefore, it is probable that

(5) God does not exist. (ibid, 160)

Smith robustly defended only premise (3). He deemed, I believe, that if true, this case gives justification to his intuition that God cannot co-exist with such gruesome and horrific evil.

Let us grant, for argument sake, that premises (3) and (4) are true, would Smith be justified in his intuition that it is probable that God does not exist?  Is this a sufficient evidence that God does not exist? I don’t think so. It might be true that the existence of God is very unlikely  given Smith’s-like background data, but this, by itself, is not a sufficient evidence that God does not exist.

A just-so example to explain why I find Smith’s case unconvincing:

Think of following background data B of a 24 years old Saudi-Arabian man, Hassan: 99% of Saudi-Arabians’ men are Moslem. Hassan’s entire family is Moslem. Considering only B, the probability that Hassan is a Moslem is, unquestionably, very high. Am I, then, justified in holding the intuition that Hassan is a Moslem? Is B a sufficient evidence that Hassan is a Moslem? No. There could be other background data OB, that I am ignorant about, that could reduce the probability of Hassan being a Moslem to nearly zero. If that could be the case, then B is not a sufficient evidence that Hassan is a Moslem. Example: Hassan working with C1 Christian’s Insider Movement. Given OB, though we grant B, it is very unlikely that Hassan is a Moslem.

Theist could, for the argument sake, bite Smith’s bullet, and accept that it is probable, given evil natural laws, that God does not exist, but this, by itself, is not a sufficient evidence that God does not exist.

Bibliography:

Smith, Quentin (1991) An atheological argument from evil natural laws. Philosophy of Religion 29: 156-174, 1991 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Cover image: Miguel’s Illustration