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Ibn Taymiyyah on the Affirmation of Natural (Material) Causes and the Creed of the Naturalists
Posted by Abu.Iyaad, Editor in Articles on Saturday, November 02, 2013

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Ibn Taymiyyah said in Kitab al-Safadiyyah (Adwaa al-Salaf, 1423H, p. 169 onwards, abridged):

However, the intent here is that many of the people of inspection and speculative theology (kalam) such as al-Ash'ari and others rejected the (natural) causes (asbaab), the inherent properties (of things) and the forces present in the creation of Allaah and His command, and they denied the wisdoms intended by that...

The Ash'arites are a heterodox Islamic sect who departed from both reason and revelation whilst claiming to establish one (revelation) through the other (reason). One of their laughable positions is their denial of natural causes. The falsification of this claim lies in thousands of texts in the Qur'an and the Sunnah (prophetic traditions) indicating they oppose both reason and revelation. In opposition to them, orthodox Sunni Muslims, in agreement with sensory perception (hiss), reason (aql) and revelation (naql), affirm the inherent strengths and properties of things, and consider them to be the foundation of material (natural) causes and effects. Thus water has an inherent property of quenching thirst, and when a person drinks pure water his thirst will be quenched by necessity. Just as water is also the means through which life is given to plants and animals, something we can see just by sensory perception. And if a person was to study the matter in depth at the biochemical level, then the actual mechanisms would be established and more detailed knowledge would be acquired. And it would be clear that water has structural properties and qualities that allow it to function the way it does (to facilitate vital biochemical operations), be that in plant or animal cells. You can analogize this for every other known (or yet unknown) cause in the study of organic life, the world and the universe. And whether you rely purely on observation through the vision of the eyes, or observation at a much deeper (physical, biochemical level), the presence of natural causes and explanations is plainly obvious. Claiming only natural explanations should be given (as a second definition of science) is not actually saying anything at all, its just a pretense of showing, through mere definition, that the intuitive, innate, rational necessity of identifiable design and purpose in things pointing to a designing agency has somehow been falsified.

...and the intent here is that the vast majority of the Muslims ... affirm the causes and the wisdoms belonging to Allaah in His creation and what Allaah has endowed upon living (hayawaan) and non-living entities (ajsaam) of inherent strengths and properties.

All elements that constitute the living and non-living entities have inherent properties and strengths and they provide the underlying basis for the system of interconnected, interdependent causes and effects operating in the universe. Underlying them are more fundamental laws that provide the basis for the inherent properties of things. The regularity and order in these laws is what makes life and the universe investigable at all, and all scientific inquiry presupposes this (learn more in this article). Thus, whenever any entity, process or phenomenon is studied through the first definition of science, "observation, theorization, experimentation and inference" a gradual understanding will develop of the collection of causes and effects that help explain it. Detailing and explaining that collection of causes and effects does not eliminate the question of where such an interconnected and interdependent system of causes and effects came from in the first place, one which Naturalists want eliminated through pure word definitions (explanation through natural causes only), since no person of sound reason denies natural causes. This additional definition of science (explanation through natural causes only) is used to portray that there is a conflict between science and theism - that the two are diametrically opposed. This is not the case however, and the true and real conflict is between:

a) the belief (prior assumption) of naturalist religion which forces the belief that matter creates itself (from nothing) and self-organizes to produce complicated living organisms and complex by-products through an illusion of design. At the same time, the science defined as "theorization, experimentation and inference" provides not a shred of evidence for this world-view (that universes self-create and that primeval soups charged by lightning create proteins, RNA or DNA). These are explanatory beliefs following on from and demanded by a prior assertion of naturalist religion and no experimentation has proven their validity. However, these explanatory beliefs are justified through a second, rigged definition of science "explanation through natural causes alone" to make it appear as if these specific beliefs have been validated by the actual scientific method (experimentation, observation and inference from data) when the reality is far from it. The scientific method itself does not provide specific evidence for these beliefs and where experimental attempts are made they fail. All attempts to simulate the creation of self-replicating molecules have failed. Data collected through observation is given a much larger explanatory power than it is able to bear, as occurs in neo-Darwinism which claims random mutations and Natural Selection explain all diversity in life. That's leaving aside the fact that all reputable evolutionary biologists consider neo-Darwinism as an all-explanatory mechanism essentially dead and grant it a token back seat (in an extended evolutionary synthesis) for explaining the appearance of diversity between species. Genetic studies have undermined neo-Darwinism (as an all-explanatory mechanism) and have uprooted the Darwinian Tree of Life. Further, many theories in physics are proven to be viable through creative mathematics (that follow on from a prior assertion of Naturalism), then experiments are designed in such a way to help to confirm the assumptions underlying those theories (so the theories can be said to be validated). So in all of this what we are seeing is naturalist assertions (belief) come first (second definition), then the science (first definition) comes afterwards to justify that belief.


b) the assertion of theism in which the universe and all entities and phenomena therein are taken as direct first-hand, observational evidence for a knowing, willing, powerful, creating agency upon the innate, intuitive rational necessity that design (indicative of complexity and purpose) only comes from a purposeful designer. The step from one (observation of design) to the other (a designing agency) is innate, perfectly rational and necessary in reason. There is no conflict between this self-evident truth (design only comes from a designer) and the scientific method. All the advances in astronomy and molecular biology over the past 50 years have shown that the universe is designed to support and enable life and that the information systems underlying life are far superior to all hardware, operating and software systems created to date by the most intelligent hardware and software engineering brains on the planet. As knowledge increases in these areas, it becomes increasingly difficult to deny that that life was intended to be the way it is.

The conflict is not between science and theism therefore but between the assertion of naturalism and the assertion of theism. The real question is which of the two assertions does the scientific method support and which of the two is the scientific method more worthy of being founded upon? The assertion that universes come to be from and by nothing and blind purposeless physical forces mimic the effect of conscious (deliberate) design and lead to a wholly purposeless directionless universe and wholly purposeless biological life in which no actual design is apparent? Or the assertion that purposeful design comes through knowledge, will, power and wisdom, leading to a rational intelligible universe that encourages study and investigation for that very reason? In fact, is the scientific method even necessary to demonstrate the truth of one and the falsehood of the other? The knowledge that "nothing" does not create anything and that "blind purposeless forces" cannot be ascribed any creative power in reality are self-evident truths in basic reason. However, in order to conceal the superstitious nature of this belief, naturalists portray naturalism to be synonymous with science and this is done by employing the second definition of science (explanation through "nature" only). This is to avoid the conclusion that all causes (asbaab) and their effects (musabbabaat) require an agent (musabbib) placing them and tying them together to operate in a law-like fashion giving order, regularity, rationality and intelligibility to the universe, a consequence of which is a universe that can be studied rationally, the by-product of which is scientific method itself. Explanation through natural causes requires a designed universe by default otherwise such explanations are simply not possible. From this, the naturalist slogan "explanation through natural law only" is a red herring. It's meaningless and it does nothing to save the naturalistic superstition: "The glass broke by itself. We know that because the laws of physics explain the breaking process and we understand it extremely well. We have the equations and the math, its all there. Invoking a glass-breaker is not necessary."

However, alongside their affirmation of the causes and wisdoms, they do not speak with the saying of the Naturalists amongst the Philosophers and others. Rather, they say that Allaah is the Creator of every thing, its Lord and its Master... and they know that all the causes are created by Allaah through His will and power... so whatever arises through the causes, then Allaah is the creator of the cause and the effect...

So we have the originating agent (musabbib), the cause (sabab) and the effect (musabbab) and all three are necessary, you cannot have any two without the third. This is accepted by all parties. The real argument is what is the originating agent (musabbib)? In the naturalist (superstitious) religion it is "nothing" which created matter and energy and thereafter blind purposeless physical forces acted randomly, eventually sending shuttles into space. Here we get the "blind-watchmakers", "mimickers of conscious design", "mountains of improbability" and other naturalist fables. These are the only possible explanations available if you make a prior assertion of naturalism in the study of a rational, intelligible, framed-for-life universe. Thereafter these fables are given weight not by the scientific method, but by a second rigged definition of science (explanation through natural causes only) which is really a meaningless statement in the overall scheme of things. What we have is a tautology, a closed, circular loop. Naturalism is true. In light of that, here are our naturalistic theories and explanations to account for the universe and life. They must be true because science by definition can only explain through natural law. And because naturalism is true, then our explanations simply have to be correct, its impossible for them not to be.

The saying of the speculative theologians of the religious factions from the Mu'tazilah, Shi'ah, Karraamiyyah and Ash'ariyyah is closer to acceptance than the sayings of the Philosophers, the Naturalists and the Astrologers.

The saying of the speculative theologians (Ahl al-Kalaam) even though it comprises falsehood is still closer to acceptance than the saying of the Naturalists. As for the Naturalists:

For these ones (the latter) observe some of the (natural causes) just as they observe the inherent properties and powers (forces) which Allaah created in entities (ajsaam) and just as they observe the effects of the sun and moon upon this world, but alongside this, they assign the (observable) events arising (thereby) to a cause amongst His causes, such as ascribing newly-emerging entities to "nature." But "nature" is simply an attribute (that is) established with the entity.

That which is referred to as "nature" refers to the properties of a thing. The attributes and behaviours it exhibits. Thus all entities and elements have a "nature." This nature in all instances has no inherent creative power in its own right. The "nature" of water refers to its collection of unique and special properties. Those unique and special properties do not have any creative power on their own. But when a system of causes is brought together (soil, seed, air, water) a creative process goes into motion. Assigning independent creative power to the nature of each entity (cause) is false. Likewise assigning independent creative power to the system of causes is also false. But this is what Naturalists do. They assign independent creative power to what they refer to as "nature" but then they have to qualify this creative power as "an automated blind, purposeless, illusory design process" so as to keep within the naturalistic fold. The creative process is essentially assigned to chance and randomness operating on the inherent properties of things. What Ibn Taymiyyah has alluded to here is perfectly illustrated by citing examples from Richard Dawkins from his book the Blind Watchmaker. On the cover we read, "Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view. Yet the living results of Natural Selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning", and also, "All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural Selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose at all" (p. 5). This view is further from acceptance than the saying of those from the speculative theologians of Islam who erred in certain respects.

Thus, the one who made "nature" to be that which brings about a human in the womb of his mother and whatever he possesses of the various limbs and the strengths and benefits endowed upon (these limbs), then his saying is more apparently corrupt than those sayings in which the newly-emerging entities are assigned to an eternal (static) will without affirmation of a cause or a wisdom (therein), or assigning newly-emerging entities to the power of a willing, powerful agent, irrespective of whether that power (has been exercised in) eternity or is exercised (through recurring will). For both of these sayings are better than assigning that to "nature" which is simply an attribute in an entity amongst the entities, which has no wish or will.

As an example illustration, to ascribe the process of human development in the womb to "nature" means assigning independent creative power to the sum of causes involved in that process which is false because "nature" refers to an attribute of an entity, its behavioural property, which in itself cannot have independent creative power. And the sum of the properties (natures) of the various causes involved (in human development by way of example) do not have independent creative power. The originating source of independent creative power, the musabbib, is external to the sum of causes (asbaab) and their effects (musabbabaat) and creative power has been placed within that collection of causes in terms of the individual properties of things. When all the right causes come together (and preventative barriers are absent), the effect will take place. This can only be through prior estimation and determination (taqdeer) and it is impossible for the creative power to be assigned independently to the "nature" of the system (in our example, the human reproductive system). Naturalists assign this independent creative power to "nature" but must qualify it immediately as a process of apparent and illusory design, not actual design. This is because purposeful design necessitates a designer with knowledge, intent, creative power and purpose in the innate disposition and reason of all humankind.

...As for the vast majority of the Muslims, they do not reject the causes and effects, neither in inanimate (non-living) things and nor in living things. However, they acknowledge everything whose soundness is demonstrated by evidence, irrespective of whether the evidence is textual (from authentic text) or rational (investigative).

Every confirmed explanation through "natural law" or natural cause is automatically accepted by Muslims by default since all causes (asbaab) and effects (musabbabaat) are tied together and made law-like through an external agent (musabbib) possessing will, knowledge and power by necessity and to whom "independent creative power" is assigned. The saying of the Naturalists is that the external agent responsible for this system of causes and effects is "nothing" or "blind forces" which mimic "conscious design" in the absence of knowledge, will and intent. There is no difference between naturalists and theists in affirming the presence of something (a power) above the system of all natural causes and effects. To Muslims that entity is described in a way consistent with what the order, regularity and rational intelligibility of the universe demands by necessity. The Naturalists, like Dawkins, opt for "the blind-watchmaker" which is sophistry in reason and revilement in intellect.


Nature is not an independent creative power, since the word nature is merely a reference to the essential properties of a thing which in themselves are not creative. The individual nature of each cause (or entity) in a system of interconnected causes does not have independent creative power. Nor does the system as a whole. True independent creative power is always external to the sum of interconnected causes which when found together lead to a particular effect or effects. There is always a musabbib (originating agent who placed causes and effects), asbaab (causes) and musabbabaat (effects), no two can exist independent of the third (except where some causes are made barriers to the effects of other causes in which case the presence of a cause will not necessarily lead to its effect). But such a system of interconnected causes behaving in this way and exhibiting creative processes can only behave as such through prior determination (taqdeer) of the essential properties of each element comprising it and not merely because of the "nature" of the elements that comprise it, individually or collectively. This reasoning is sound and validated by the sum whole of human activity in the field of industrial and technological enterprise in that the originating, independent, ultimate creative power (musabbib) is always external to the system of causes (asbaab) and their effects (musabbabaat). No valid distinction can be made between industrial, technological or biological systems. That issue will be looked at in separate articles. But in short ascribing "independent creative power" to nature is false and that is why we see people like Richard Dawkins using very specific and carefully chosen language when attempting to propose the "blind watchmaker" thesis, "the blind, unconscious, automatic process", "it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view", "the illusion of design and planning", "the blind forces of physics albeit deployed in a very special way." In all of these quotes (and many more can be provided from atheist naturalists) we see that something is being invoked above and beyond the "nature" of the system being spoken of, bearing in mind that "nature" simply means the essential properties of an entity that do not in themselves have any creative power. The creative power being invoked that lies beyond that nature is being ascribed to that very nature and then immediately qualified as a blind, unconscious, illusion of design. These are the types of explanations that come from young children when asked to explain who broke the glass, "the glass broke by itself (through the laws of physics)."

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