Islam on Nature and Nature’s Anti-god

Paul Nachman writes:

From a review, by Matthew Kenefick, of The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert Reilly:

At the heart of Reilly’s book is his argument that the denigration of dialogue is due to the demotion of reason that took place in the ninth-century struggle between the rationalist theologians, the Mu’tazilites and their anti-rationalist theologians, the Ash’arites. Unfortunately, for those who prefer dialogue, the Ash’arites won.

The Ash’arites’ position was that reason is so infected by men’s self-interest that it cannot be relied upon to know things objectively. What is more, there is really nothing to be known because all created things have no nature or order intrinsic to themselves, but are only the momentary manifestations of God’s direct will. Since God acts without reason, the products of his will are not intelligible to men. Therefore, in this double disparagement, reason cannot know, and there is nothing to be known. [LA replies: This is the clearest explanation of this idea that I have seen. I feel that I understand it for the first time.]

A four-stars review at Amazon of the same book contains this:

Reilly provides us with some very stark and frightening examples of how Islamic irrationality continues to be felt in the modern age. In Afghanistan, science textbooks were written to make Allah the intervening agent in chemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen atoms. One cannot, as in the West, say that atoms drawn from these two elements form water; rather, one must say that water is formed from two elements acting under the immediate intervention of Allah.

Sunni Islam’s suspicion of human reason led to an atomistic view of reality. Each microsecond of existence is recreated by the will of Allah and there are no physical laws in play that determine events in the ordinary sense world. Humans only perceive a pattern in things out of a sense of habit. A ball dropped a thousand times always falls to the ground if unimpeded, but according to Islam, it is possible for Allah to completely contradict this habit at any given moment, making the ball instead move sideways, up, etc. With such an epistemology, science and fine arts simply cannot develop. Islam rests on a metaphysics of uncertainty.

It wasn’t news to you. But sometime recently, when I saw something mentioning the femtosecond-by-femtosecond control of everything by Allah, it was startling for me.

But here’s the kicker. Islam is given credit for scientific advances in the Middle Ages. But, as the Amazon reviewer points out, it makes no sense to do science, i.e., to try to divine the laws of nature, if it’s really just Allah deciding what happens in every instance. Well maybe the science done by Islam was done before this conflict within the religion. But then wouldn’t such science have been condemned by Muslims, afterward, as blasphemy? [LA replies: One of the conditions of the so-called Islamic Golden Age of Learning and Science under the Abbasid Caliphate, which mainly consisted of work by non-Moslems under Moslem rule and of translations of ancient Greek works, was that pure Islamic orthodoxy was not in the saddle during that period.]

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 07, 2010 09:25 AM | Send

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